In theory, China accepts
that the principles enshrined within the UN Charter, including sovereign equality, prohibition on the use of force, settlement of disputes by peaceful means, non-intervention in the affairs of other states and fulfilment of international obligations in good faith, apply in cyberspace.
Nevertheless, the Chinese position is generally characterized by a reluctance
to crystallise the precise ways in which existing customary and international treaty law might govern the cyber domain; the exact application of specific aspects of international law, such as laws on self-defence, state responsibility, and international humanitarian law, is claimed to remain unclear in the absence of international consensus.
Chinese delegations have also repeatedly cautioned against the “indiscriminate application of the law of armed conflicts”
, arguing that the undue emphasis on jus ad bellum
undermines stability in cyberspace by presupposing and thus effectively legitimising cyber conflict, consequently turning cyberspace into a “new battlefield”.
China regards proposals on regional exchanges of views and development of common understanding on the application of international law with particular scepticism, stating
that states must work on reaching “universally-accepted consensus” on the application of international law, rather than engage in “self-explanations at regional levels or among a small group of countries”. The Chinese have also consistently favoured
the adoption of new international legal instruments tailored to the attributes of cyberspace (lex specialis
The UK views
international law as “a critical tool for ensuring stability and security in cyberspace”. In accordance with the 2013, 2015 and 2021 UNGGE reports as well the 2021 OEWG report, the UK has affirmed
that international law, including the UN Charter in its entirety, applies in cyberspace; a position paper notably states
that “we do not consider it is for States to pick and choose which international law instruments are applicable”. This includes the prohibition of the use of force (Article 2(4)), the peaceful settlement of disputes (Article 33) and the inherent right of states to act in self-defence in response to an armed attack (Article 51). The law of state responsibility applies to cyber operations in peacetime, including the doctrine of countermeasures in response to internationally wrongful acts. Meanwhile, the country has professed
a strong commitment to the respect of human rights law in cyberspace, co-sponsoring the 2012
UN Human Rights Council resolutions on the protection, promotion and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet. Likewise, the UK believes
in the application of international humanitarian law (IHL) to cyber operations in armed conflict. In response to concerns expressed by other states that this might lead to an undue ‘militarisation’ of cyberspace, the UK has responded
that the application of IHL does not encourage armed conflict but only serves to limit humanitarian consequences in the event of such conflict. In addition, the country has stated
and that there are ways for cyber capabilities to be developed in a manner “consistent with international law” and called on states to be transparent about the existence of their own capabilities. Those statements do not entirely dismiss the idea of cyberspace as a new military domain, with the British position at the OEWG being
that “the use of ICTs in military contexts may be preferable to use of kinetic weapons and can be de-escalatory”. The UK is against the establishment of new, binding international instruments to regulate state behaviour in cyberspace, arguing
that “pursuing […] the development of new treaties is only likely to entrench existing divides in this area and will progress us no further on the question of how International Law applies”.