The emergence of a deep-seated, multidimensional strategic competition between the United States and China has led many to argue that the world is fracturing into two spheres—a Sinocentric order and a U.S.-centric one. One result of this fragmentation, some suggest, could be that Beijing sets the terms of data and internet governance and technology standards in Asian countries and beyond. As the world moves into the next phase of the digital transformation, what was once viewed as a purely commercial and technological competition is increasingly being framed as an existential geopolitical one.
But the United States and China are not, in fact, the world’s only major digital players. There has been a proliferation of policy and regulatory models, and international internet governance is up for grabs as countries experiment, innovate, and share their policy experiences and practices.
Data governance is one critical area of contention because it is increasingly central to next-generation industries and the future of rulemaking in the global economy. Countries such as South Korea and India have developed distinctive national approaches to data governance. Neither country aims to imitate or adopt wholly American, much less Chinese, data policies and practices. They, too, have the potential to drive debates about technology business models and regulatory frameworks.
Korea, in particular, is a digital pacesetter because it is perhaps the world’s most connected country. Indeed, precisely because Korea is such a wired country, much can be learned by examining its policies and regulations in more detail.
Unfortunately, however, Korea’s digital policies are still not widely known, in part because little has been written in English about Korea’s distinctive frameworks, standards, and models. Yet Korea has over the past two decades pioneered important approaches to data governance while accumulating a body of experience with best practices—and sometimes not-so-best practices that it has had to tweak, amend, or replace. These experiences provide useful lessons.
This volume digs deeply into what we call “the Korean way with data.” It explores Korea’s distinctive experiences, successes, failures, and recalibrations. And it aims to address the question of what can and should be learned from innovative Korean policies and practices.
The chapters in this volume illustrate how the Korean government has tried to craft coherent and consistent policies in three important areas related to data: (1) online authentication and data access control; (2) cyber defense and data resilience; and (3) data localization. In each case, Korean policies have evolved by trial and error. Different approaches have been tried. When found to be inadequate, more workable approaches were found.
The resulting frameworks could have broad resonance for countries struggling to address these three issues. Indeed, one reason Korean leadership could be so important is that the bifurcation of the world into a Sinosphere or an American sphere would not serve the interests of most countries. Many countries, even well-established democracies, are developing a hybrid approach. And on data governance, in particular, there has been no putative American-led “Team Democracy” vs. a Chinese-led “Team Autocracy.” The chapters in this volume demonstrate that the future will be much more complex than a battle between U.S.- and China-centric approaches.
The intensifying U.S.-China battle is leading to trade disputes, restrictions on foreign investment, and, increasingly, wholesale bans on the use of foreign web services and apps. Yet countries like Korea have pioneered their own unique approaches to technology governance and regulation.
Korea may offer a third way—one that relies on practices and experiences developed and incubated in a successful democracy that has also carved out an important role for the state and sought a balance between public and private interests and state and market-based approaches.