The Gold Standard Award for Integrated Communications

Winner: The American Chamber of Commerce in China – China’s Cyber Insecurity

In June 2015, the National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China released a draft cybersecurity law. The legislation, containing vague language about data localisation requirements and compulsory security reviews requiring disclosure of trade secrets, alarmed members of the foreign business community.

However, in July 2016, the NPC released the Cybersecurity Law (Draft) for Second Deliberation, leaving almost every issue unresolved. Legislation in China typically gains approval during the third consideration, indicating a narrow window of opportunity to affect its outcome.

Confronted by the unresponsive environment surrounding the draft, the foreign business community focused on two goals: gaining time to understand and comply with the law, and directing the attention of key US and Chinese government stakeholders to the harm the law could cause. At the request of industry leaders and member companies, the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham China) began a government relations and communications campaign to delay implementation of the law’s most onerous elements and to raise the issue’s salience in the minds of US officials.

While soliciting input from members of the chamber that would be affected by the law, AmCham China also engaged with other trade organisations and coordinated a unified policy position. In less than three weeks, it had compiled, translated and submitted the resulting document to relevant Chinese agencies alongside AmCham Shanghai, AmCham South China and the US Chamber of Commerce.

In November 2016, the day the legislation was adopted, AmCham China distributed a statement by its chairman to the press and in May 2017, in coordination with 45 other trade organisations, it delivered a letter to Premier Li Keqiang encouraging revisions to the legislation, which received widespread media coverage.

The chamber also initiated a campaign to keep membership informed leading up to the law entering force on June 1, 2017. It coordinated with lawyers and other experts to draft content to help members understand and comply with the new law, including downloadable PowerPoint guides.

In order to raise the profile of the issue in policymaking circles in the US, AmCham China focused on the deleterious effects of the legislation that would burden US companies and on the law’s negative implications for innovation and market access. In early May, AmCham China led a delegation to Washington to meet with members of the new administration. The delegation used the cybersecurity law as an example of increasing difficulties for American companies in China.

AmCham China’s communications strategy reached a large audience and was effective in engaging members of the business community. An event held in April 2017 recorded the highest attendance of any regular event at the chamber.

The original content published by AmCham China was linked to by a number of articles in US outlets about China’s trade practices. In October 2016, the Computer & Communications Industry Association submitted comments to the Office of the United States Trade Representative on foreign trade barriers to US digital exports, citing research from AmCham China and specifically identifying its work on the second draft of the law.

The chairman’s statement was picked up by almost every major traditional media outlet. Domestic news sources also quoted or referenced the statement.

In May 2017, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the body responsible for implementing the law, invited AmCham China to a meeting to discuss its implementation. At the meeting, the CAC said it would be delaying enforcement of the most burdensome regulations for 18 months. The delay, a rare concession, caught the attention of news media and policy outlets.

In September 2017, the US government asked that a discussion of China’s cybersecurity law be included on the agenda of the Council for Trade in Services at the World Trade Organisation.The US requested that China not begin enforcement of the law until the matter was resolved, explicitly elevating the issue to the level of compliance with WTO obligations.

The entire campaign was conducted by a team of no more than 10 people, splitting time across other projects. While the issue is not yet completely resolved, effective engagement with the Chinese government, coordination with key stakeholders and communication with the US government created a positive outcome for members of AmCham China and the entire foreign business community.

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