Officials promote China-led cyber governance to Belt and Road members during the Digital Silk Road forum in Xian

Chinese government officials on Tuesday trumpeted the country’s progress in shaping digital development models for Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) member states, taking aim at US policies amid an intensifying rivalry with the West.

In keynote addresses to the Digital Silk Road (DSR) Development Forum held in Xian, capital of western Shaanxi province, officials said that, through concerted efforts, China has strengthened and accelerated a series of digital development initiatives across BRI nations.

China has signed a raft of strategic deals with the member states to work together on areas from e-commerce to digital infrastructure, according to Wang Yong, vice-chairman of the 14th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) national committee. “[China will] join hands to cooperate [with BRI nations] to develop an open and inclusive digital economy,” he told the forum.

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China will share its developmental dividends of the digital economy with BRI members, Wang added. It will promote mutual connectivity and strengthen the digital supply chain while maintaining an open, fair, non-discriminatory digital business environment, he said.

“As a responsible big nation, China is willing to work together with other countries to further advance our technological sharing and oppose technological blockades and development decoupling … to have digital and smart life benefit more nations and more people,” Wang said.

Wang made his appeal in the face of restrictions from Washington, which has been looking to curb China’s technological advance. The US has escalated sanctions in recent years and forged alliances to enforce export restrictions on the export of critical technologies, particularly advanced semiconductors, to China.

The forum was co-hosted by the World Internet Conference (WIC) – a Beijing-based agency that promotes China’s vision for cyberspace – and the Shaanxi provincial government. China launched the DSR initiative in 2015 to incorporate digital elements to its BRI plan, with the aim of boosting digital connectivity.

Zhuang Rongwen, minister of the Cyberspace Administration of China, speaks at the Digital Silk Road forum in Xian, Shaanxi province, on April 16, 2024. Photo: SCMP / Ben Jiang

WIC chair Zhuang Rongwen, who also heads the national internet watchdog Cyberspace Administration of China, promoted the country’s internet governance practices, calling for a China-led global digital governance.

“Looking into the future, we should formulate and develop global digital governance norms and standards,” Zhuang said, “advancing policies for the digital economy and cybersecurity … facing challenges and security risks together.”

The rapid development of generative AI (GenAI) – found in products like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and similar chatbots, including those from Chinese Big Tech firms – also warrants more scrutiny, according to Wang, the CPPCC vice-chairman.

“The digital technology breakthroughs such as GenAI opened new space for production and our lives but also brought in multiple governance challenges,” Wang said.

He encouraged other nations to join China’s global AI governance initiative announced in October, with the principle of “negotiating, developing, and sharing together” for the benefit of humanity.


Chinese President Xi Jinping unveils 8-point vision for nation’s Belt and Road Initiative at forum

Chinese President Xi Jinping unveils 8-point vision for nation’s Belt and Road Initiative at forum

The theme of this year’s DSR forum is mutual connectivity and common prosperity, with a focus on three areas: developing connectivity and narrowing the digital divide, cross-border e-commerce, and rural digital infrastructure initiatives.
Participants from more than 50 countries and regions attended the forum. Corporate participants included US chip giants Intel, Micron Technology and Qualcomm, as well as Chinese e-commerce platform operators PDD Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding, personal computer giant Lenovo Group and insurer Pingan Group, according to the organisers.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.


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