An interesting article in China Trade News today on the anticipated impact of the “Eastern Data, Western Computing” project on the Digital Silk Road. Let’s just say the writer sees the impact as wide and positive (for China).  “Eastern Data, Western Computing” is phase one of China’s effort to build a Nationally Integrated System (体系) of Big Data Centers. A gist of the article follows:

The writer, a journalist with China Trade News which is directly subordinate to the Ministry of Commerce’s China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, notes that the digital economy has become the key force driving China’s economic growth.  And this is growth is driven in part by the growth in cross-border e-commerce between China and countries along the Belt and Road.  He adds that Chinese enterprises in the digital economy are “continuously expanding their presence” in those countries. 

In this context, “China’s promotion of the ‘Eastern Data, Western Computing’ project will surely have a profound impact on digital economic cooperation along the Belt and Road.” But to achieve this, the first task will be to both improve regional coordination on economic development and promote the circulation of data elements with the goal of creating a market for data.  This goal requires that China establish a number of basic systems and standards including a [system] for robust data security and rights protection, and a [system] to manage cross-border data transmission.

The second task is to provide infrastructure to construct the Digital Silk Road.  After years of construction the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become a “globally-welcomed public good.”  We see a great deal of infrastructure but what we don’t see is the circulation of the kind of funds, technologies, services, and continuously-updated data that would support a digital economy.  Under the “Eastern Data, Western Computing” project, China’s western region has the capability to convert this data into something that can be mined and processed. Turning China’s western region into the computer server for the Digital Silk Road will play to China’s new competitive advantage in this area, and in effect, create a New Development Pattern.

The third task is to establish a developmental model for countries and regions along the Belt and Road. “Economic development in most of these countries and regions is relatively backward, but the booming digital economy gives new hope.” This requires not just infrastructure but also other elements such as talent, capital, and technology [all which China can provide].  All that Chinese enterprises need to do is take the initiative and understand the digital infrastructure needs of countries and regions along the Belt and Road. While these enterprises assist these countries and regions to improve their ability to process data, they will also be driving the international development of China’s enterprises in general. 

Back to me talking: My only recommendation to those countries that might considering taking this “win-win” deal, first read up on the relationship between Digital China, New Type Infrastructure, and BRI, it may be less win-win then you think.