Fact Box

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Smartened Silk Road


The Belt and Road Initiative, announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013, is inspiring to enhance the connectivity among countries. The initiative now includes 140 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa, covering two-thirds of the world's population and one-third of the global GDP.

By connecting the projects of enterprises and institutions in the participating countries and regions, the initiative has become a major driver for global prosperity, as it offers opportunities and arrangements for growth on the commercial, economic, cultural and technological levels.

As digitalization is no longer an opportunity but an inevitable necessity, President Xi proposed the building of a Digital Silk Road in 2015. And taking into account the fact that the digital economy is an important engine of innovation, competitiveness and economic growth worldwide, the government has emphasized the development of the digital economy in its 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has highlighted the significance of digitalization as an essential tool to increase the resilience of an economy. And China's ability to adopt and adapt new technologies effectively in response to the changing landscape caused by the pandemic has been noted and recognized by the international community.

China is at present the world's leading exporter of communications technology, and the vision of the Digital Silk Road has merged with potent, longer-running tendencies. Cooperative projects for the building of new infrastructures such as 5G networks and data centers are accelerating the formation of a Digital Silk Road.

Within this framework, a persuasive example is the recent founding of the International Digital Economy College in Fuzhou, Fujian province, operated jointly by Minjiang University and European University Cyprus. The college is implementing the Chinese Ministry of Education's plan to promote bilateral synergies on Belt and Road education, based on the cooperation between China and Cyprus in the field of the digital economy under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. The college, the first of its kind, contributes to the digitization of the economy by integrating the highest level of scientific and technological capacity development, from not just China and Cyprus but also Europe.

It's also worth noting that Fujian is perceived to be one of the front-runners in China in terms of the development of the digital economy, as it is considered the birthplace of the concept of a digital China. In recent years, Fujian's digital economy has flourished as it has given priority to the building of digital infrastructure. Statistics show the province's digital economy reached 1.42 trillion yuan ($222 billion) in 2018, registering a 22 percent year-on-year rise, the second-largest growth rate in the country. In 2020, Fujian's digital economy exceeded 2 trillion yuan, 45 percent of its GDP, and it had a 15-percent year-on-year growth rate.

With constant introduction of faster communication networks and the continually growing number of linked devices, digital infrastructure is indispensable for economies today. And the potential for growth in the developing world is enormous. For instance, the demand for international bandwidth is increasing the fastest in Asia and Africa, as the two regions are expected to account for 90 percent of the global population growth by 2050.

In this process, data and cross-border data flows are becoming increasingly more vital for development. Such data as artificial intelligence, blockchain, the internet of things, cloud computing and all internet-based services are fundamental to all fast-emerging digital technologies. The Digital Economy Report 2021 points to the complexities involved in governing data and data flows across borders in ways that can bring sustainable development benefits.

While addressing the first session of the 16th G20 Leaders' Summit in Rome in late October, President Xi said that China attaches great importance to international cooperation on the digital economy, and has decided to apply to join the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement. China stands ready to work with all parties for the healthy and orderly development of the digital economy.

Certainly, China's digital development has led the world in recent years. China's digital economy registered a high growth rate of 9.7 percent last year amid the pandemic and global economic slowdown. The scale of China's digital economy last year was 39.2 trillion yuan ($6.1 trillion), accounting for 38.6 percent of its GDP.

Moreover, the Chinese government has advanced a number of policies designed to strengthen the digital economy as a new engine for economic growth and as a means to promote the building of a global community with a shared future.

The author is former rector of European University Cyprus and ordinary member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn