The first ever land-based cross-border optical fiber project between China and Pakistan was inaugurated on July 13, 2018 in Islamabad, a significant digital achievement under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The connection of both countries’ communication facilities will improve Pakistan’s telecommunication infrastructure, push forward the development of its communication technology and facilitate the communication connectivity between the two countries and the entire region.
It is only a part of the mass efforts made by China and its Belt and Road Initiative partners in building of digital Silk Road, which, aiming at facilitating telecommunication and information exchange, has become a bright spot in the Belt and Road construction.
-- Building digital Silk Road, a consensus of B&R countries
The building of digital Silk Road was officially proposed by China in 2015 during the second World Internet Conference held in Wuzhen, East China’s Zhejiang Province. As the embodiment of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the digital economy field, the digital Silk Road was further accepted and advocated by the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation convened in May 2017.
With the proceeding of the BRI, it has become a consensus of B&R countries to energetically promoting the building of Digital Silk Road.
In the past three years, China has signed memorandums of understanding on cooperation in strengthening digital economy with 16 countries to jointly build Digital Silk Road and it has also joined hands with six B&R countries includingEgypt, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, in launching an initiative to strength cooperation on digital economy, such as telecommunication, infrastructure, e-commerce, smart city, big data and mobile payment. Now 12 B&R countries are compiling related action plans, according to China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
-- Consolidating Internet infrastructure, key base for developing digital economy
Internet is an important base for the networking and information sharing, and also fundamental for the development of digital economy. However, there are big disparities in the current situation of network infrastructure in B&R countries.
According to a report on the connectivity of digital Silk Road published by China’s National Information Center, the connectivity of digital Silk Road between China and B&R countries in general stays the medium level, with Singapore, Russia, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Thailand taking the top five positions. In terms of network infrastructure such as trans-border optical cable and network nodes, China is highly connected with Asia, Oceania and South Asia, but less connected with Eastern Europe.
In an effort to grant a stable infrastructure support to high-speed communication of information for B&R regions, China is mulling over setting up several trans-border land optical fiber cable systems and providing international Internet transfer service, according to the China Academy of Information and Communication Technology (CAICT).
Actually construction of digital infrastructure along the Belt & Road has improved a lot thanks to continuous efforts made by China and its partners. A White Paper released by CAICT in 2018 shows that China has so far built a land trans-border optical cable network linking 12 neighboring countries except for Bhutan and Afghanistan, with the system bandwidth exceeding 70 Tbps, and undersea optical-fiber cables starting from China may directly reach Asia, Europe and Africa. Now China is expanding the capacity of the trans-border optic cable extending to Kazakhstan, and building new trans-border optical cable systems to facilitate the digital link with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In addition, through cooperation with International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other international organizations, China is working hard to put in place a string of multilateral cooperation initiative on developing information highways. Chinese information technology and telecom enterprises have also participated in construction of information and communication infrastructures in more than 170 countries worldwide, laying good foundation to development of digital Silk Road.
-- Expanding cooperation in digital economy
China’s digital economy, ranking second in the world in terms of size, is growing at the fastest pace in the world. In 2018, its digital economy scale reached 31 trillion yuan, making up one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP).
“China is willing to share its experience and solutions in developing digital economy with all countries in the world,” said an official with the NDRC.
China-ASEAN Information Harbor, a major infrastructure jointly built by China and 10 ASEAN countries since 2015, has gradually become an information hub serving the region with eight platforms for infrastructure, technical cooperation, economy and trade service, information sharing and people-to-people exchange respectively. It is learned that the business and trade digital platform, has supported an accumulative foreign trade volume of 60 billion yuan since it went into operation at the beginning of 2018.
After years of development, China has established a close cooperation with B&R countries, especially those in Asia and Oceania in digital economy, highlighted by the high-quality mobile communication and high coverage of information and communication technology (ICT) business.
China’s three major telecom operators have extended their mobile communication service in all B&R countries and even slashed the international telecom tariff by 97 percent at most to meet the demand in the B&R regions, and its major telecom equipment suppliers like Huawei and ZTE have opened branches in 83.1 percent of the B&R countries, according to a survey made by the National Information Center.
With the improvement of infrastructure for digital Silk Road, e-commerce has entered into fast lane in B&R countries and cross-border e-commerce has become a new channel for inter-country economic and trade cooperation. The import and export data collected by JD.com, one of China’s major e-commerce platform, shows that through cross-border e-commerce, China’s commodities are sold to more than 100 countries that have signed the B&R cooperation documents with China.
There is a great potential for China and B&R countries to tap in cooperation in digital economy, particularly for those countries like Israel, Lithuania and Latvia, which boast advanced Internet infrastructure but poorly linked up with China, predicted the National Information Center in its Report on Belt and Road Big Data. (Contributed by Zhang Aifang, email@example.com, edited by Sun Huanjie)