Left-leaning think tank pushes new effort to counter China online

Left-leaning think tank pushes new effort to counter China online

Left-leaning think tank Third Way is kickstarting a new initiative to counter China online, emphasizing the need for “digital democracy” to triumph over “digital autocracy.”

Valerie Shen, Third Way national security program vice president, said Tuesday that China thinks American democracy is too messy to win the digital competition online. But she said the U.S. can succeed. Her organization is spearheading a new U.S.-China Digital World Order Initiative. 

“The U.S. will need to dig deep, figure out, agree upon and then execute our own plan to win,” Ms. Shen said at an event at the International Spy Museum in Washington. “The whole of government, big tech, businesses, civil society, and, yes, even Democrats and Republicans passing laws together. And ideally starting as soon as possible.” 

Third Way, which describes itself as center-left, envisions developing a “comprehensive strategy to secure a democratic digital world order for the 21st century” that it will push policymakers to enact. The organization lists several federal lawmakers as honorary co-chairs on its website, including Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Gary Peters of Michigan, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware.

Despite its Democratic bench, the group said its initiative will strive to be bipartisan and stressed the need to imbue cyberspace with American values on such things as free speech, privacy, human rights, truth and accountability. In an example of its GOP outreach, former Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican, joined the launch event on Tuesday.

The group also has allies within the ranks of the Biden administration. Officials from the Department of Defense, State Department and National Security Council spoke at the launch gathering.

The Biden administration enlisted more than 60 countries to join its Declaration for the Future of the Internet earlier this year, which sought to advance a “political commitment” for a positive vision of the internet and digital tech, according to the State Department.  

Ruth Berry, a State Department deputy assistant secretary, said the administration is not pursuing decoupling from China. 

“The United States and China will have to deal with each other for the foreseeable future, that being said, there are areas that are critical to U.S. national and economic security where the United States will work with its partners and allies to do what we have to do to protect ourselves,” Ms. Berry said at Third Way’s event. “I think it really falls into this idea of both a protect and a promote strategy.”  

Third Way is not the only think tank with an emphasis on countering China in the digital realm. The Brookings Institution is hosting White House officials on Wednesday to explain the Declaration for the Future of the Internet, which the officials helped author.