Full Version: Will China Control the Global Internet Via its Digital Silk Road?
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Quote:The “Digital Silk Road” (DSR) was introduced in 2015 by an official Chinese government white paper, as a component of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For years, it has been less an identifiable set of projects as much as it was a brand for virtually any telecommunications or data-related business operations or product sales by China-based tech firms in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, or the Caribbean — home to the 100+ “BRI countries.”

Since the DSR was announced, self-proclaimed DSR projects have enjoyed substantial support from state entities as part of the BRI, which is a top policy priority of China’s leadership. Yet such support most often did not occur with the degree of coordination that Beijing has projected and foreign observers have feared. Indeed, years of Chinese tech sector growth in emerging markets preceded the DSR, and some of these efforts were only recently branded as part of it. But Beijing’s coordinating role in the DSR appears is set to grow.

Official statements and documents could lead one to believe that rooms of cadres are organizing the international expansion decisions of Chinese tech conglomerates. During the state-sponsored Belt and Road Forum last April, which included a sub-forum on the DSR that attracted major attention, official media claimed that the DSR “not only promotes the development of the digital service sector, such as cross-border ecommerce, smart cities, telemedicine, and internet finance, but also accelerates technological progress including computing, big data, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and quantum computing.” This sweeping statement implies that all things technology related were being coordinated through a state-sponsored DSR.

Another misperception of the DSR is that it is a masterplan by Beijing to deploy its “techno-authoritarian” model to countries along the BRI. Certainly, Chinese companies export facial recognition technology and privacy-invasive cyber infrastructure that is used in emerging market countries — yet deployment of these technologies in emerging markets is very much a demand-driven phenomenon. The DSR relates to these trends in that Beijing is seeking (paywall) to align global technology standards developed by bodies such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) with proprietary technologies used by Chinese suppliers — an effort that is easier if countries are already using made in China technology. This would give Chinese firms an advantage over competitors also working to meet this demand.