DIGITAL SILK ROAD
Not a single IT conference in China today is held without the mention of Digital Silk Road. This is an allusion to the ancient Silk Road and also the modern Belt and Road Initiative. However, whereas the latter initiative is primarily a logistics project, the Digital Silk Road initiative, which started in 2015, is based on IT infrastructure. It is not limited to the idea of laying high-quality fibre optics. The People’s Republic of China wants to invest in and attract investments in nanotechnologies and artificial intelligence, e-commerce and mobile telecommunications.
For the time being the focus has shifted to countries in the South Asia Region and Africa: Cambodia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Djibouti, Yemen and others. According to a report of the International Telecommunication Union for 2016, less than 20% of households in these countries use the Internet. Accordingly, there is vast scope for work. Chinese state corporations have taken up the challenge of building a new global cyber community - China Telecom and China Unicom. Leading private commercial firms are also participating in the project: last year Huawei signed a contract on laying the Pakistan East Africa Cable Express (PEACE) approximately 13,000 kilometres long, which will connect Pakistan with Kenya and other African countries.
THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA IS ALREADY CONSIDERING THE POSSIBILITY OF RUNNING FIBRE OPTICS THROUGH THE POLAR CIRCLE, ESTABLISHING A ROUTE THROUGH NORWAY, FINLAND, RUSSIA AND JAPAN.
Projects on the cusp of IT and finance are being developed. South Africa’s Standard Bank recently announced that it would start processing transactions based on Chinese UnionPay cards by the end of 2018, while the Chinese payment system Alipay is already being used in India, Thailand, Malaysia and other countries in the region.
While Internet links and financial infrastructure are the most important areas of the Digital Silk Road, they are not the most technological. There are also even bolder projects. For example, the so-called smart cities. One of them is already being built based on a project of Hong Kong architects and urban planners in the Philippines. This is the City of Pearl, a futuristic district in Manila with a driverless transport system and tidal power plant, which will spread out to 407 hectares by 2024. Such cities will become major attractions for both finance and technologies.
IT IS INTERESTING TO NOTE THAT THE IDEOLOGICAL DRIVER OF THE DIGITAL SILK ROAD WAS THE ANCIENT CHINESE CAPITAL, THE CITY OF XI’AN, WHICH HISTORICALLY SUPPLIED THE BEST MILITARY ENGINEERS TO THE IMPERIAL COURT.
Today the city is the main IT hub with dozens of educational institutions and hundreds of R&D centres. Local mass media refer to the city as the “Silicon Valley on the west of China”, but it still has a long way to go to merit this status. The Internet in China is subject to extremely rigid censorship rules: this could become the main obstacle that prevents Xi’an from attracting top software programmers from all over the world. Nevertheless, the Chinese plan to create in Eurasia “a community of common destiny in cyberspace”.
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