Russia and China could soon sign an agreement on cooperation in the field of cybersecurity, a move that some see as an attempt to reduce American influence in the information technology field.

On Nov. 10 Russia and China could sign a bilateral agreement on cooperation in international information security. Photo: Getty Images / Fotobank

During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing for the APEC Summit, Russia and China could sign a bilateral agreement on cooperation in international information security. The agreement could be signed Nov. 10.

Putin and Xi Jinping are also expected to make their first joint statement on cybersecurity. According to sources, the Russian-Chinese treaty will be “far more ambitious” than the one signed last year between the Russian Federation and the United States.

In 2013, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama concluded the first-ever bilateral agreement on confidence and security-building measures in cyberspace  a kind of electronic non-aggression pact. It involved a package of three intergovernmental agreements to establish a hotline between Moscow and Washington to prevent the escalation of cyber incidents, analogous to the nuclear hotline in Soviet times.

The 2013 agreements also brought into play a key element of nuclear war prevention: the national centers for nuclear risk reduction, which were created back in 1987.

Lines of communication were also set up between national security supervisors and computer emergency response teams (CERT) in Russia and the U.S. These channels were put into operation in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics.

The Russian side had hoped to deepen cooperation with the U.S. in this area, for which purpose a special working group was set up under the Bilateral Presidential Commission. But events in Ukraine caused Washington to suspend its involvement. But the agreements themselves (including the hotlines) continue to operate.

Russia and China are already cooperating in the field of cybersecurity, but on a multilateral basis under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It is expected that the proposed agreements on confidence and security-building measures will be accepted by the other BRICS countries, too.

According to Valery Yaschenko, first deputy director of the Institute for Information Security Issues of Moscow State University, “The signing of a bilateral agreement between Russia and China, two cyber superpowers, is long overdue... In recent months we have seen the two countries become very close in this area. Such an agreement would be the natural result of this process,” he said.

As for the question of whether these negotiations are evidence that the parties are fearful of  and want to safeguard against  a potential cyber conflict (as was the case with the United States), Yaschenko replied: “Not necessarily. Moscow and Beijing just want to cooperate.”

On cyber security and Internet governance, Russia and China do indeed have more in common than either has with the U.S. That much is clear from the statement that followed last week’s Russian-Chinese interdepartmental consultations on international information security (according to available data, the main topic was the preparation of the agreement).

According to the statement, the two sides are opposed to the use of information technology for the purpose of “interfering in the internal affairs of other countries; undermining sovereign, political, economic, and social stability; disturbing public order; promoting terrorism, extremism, and separatism; fomenting ethnic and religious hatred; and other terrorist or criminal purposes.”

In addition, the document says that Russia and China support the idea of ​​the “internationalization of control” (i.e. to reduce America’s influence in this domain) and uphold the “sovereign right” of nations to control the Internet “in their national segment” (the U.S. does not recognize any “national segments”).

Practical cooperation between Russia and China in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT) in recent months has also dramatically intensified. In May, Rostelecom agreed to a deal with China’s Huawei to build the Magadan-Sakhalin-Kamchatka underwater communications link at a cost of 2.5 billion rubles.

At a meeting in August, Russian Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov met with Chinese Industry and Information Minister Miao Wei and the country’s head of media management, Tsai Fuchang, and agreed to increase exports of Russian software to China and to allow China’s largest manufacturer of servers, Inspur Group, to supply hardware to Russia, in particular to the Voskhod research institute, which develops and oversees the Elections, Justice, and Lawmaking national automated systems, and the issuance of biometric passports and visas.

And just last week Rosnano announced the establishment, in conjunction with Chinese investment firm Industrial Technology Investment Corporation and Singapore's 360ip, of the Asia Pacific Technology Fund (APTF) worth $200 million with the prospect of being enlarged to $400 million. As reported by Rosnano, the APTF will focus on investments in information technology, robotics, automation, nanotechnology, and new materials.

Meanwhile, U.S.-Chinese cooperation on Internet security is at a standstill. During a recent visit to Washington, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi said: “The erroneous position of the U.S. rules out any renewal of bilateral negotiations on these issues.” For Beijing, America’s “erroneous position” lies in its accusations that China is engaged in industrial and nation-state cyber espionage.

According to sources, Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing will involve the signing of several other important agreements, including ones pertaining to military-technical cooperation.

This is an abridged version of the original article that was first published in Russian in Kommersant daily.