David Dorman and John Hemmings, “Digital China: The Strategy and its Geopolitical Implications,” Issues and Insights, February 20, 2023.
As the world was distracted by the long, drawn out economic and social disruptions caused by the coronavirus, Beijing seized the “opportunity” offered by the crisis to accelerate its national digital strategy, titled unassumingly “Digital China.” With a decades-long personal tie to General Secretary Xi Jinping, the strategy is designed to lift China’s core competitiveness and societal efficiency through comprehensive digital transformation at the national level. Mostly unknown in the West, Digital China has profound implications for China’s developmental path, great power competition, and for the norms that will undergird the international system for decades to come.
Beijing hopes to leverage a latecomer’s advantage to win what it sees as the new focal point of great power competition in the digital age: the race to design and build the world’s first nationally integrated system of rules, institutions, and technology to comprehensively manage big data and its intelligent application. This expresses itself in the Digital China strategy’s intense focus on the governance and control of data, a process Beijing calls the “new stage” in national informatization. Equally important, the Communist Party also now considers the “control of data” to be essential to its own survival, on par with the control of media, the military, and personnel.
Rooted in Marxist theory, the Digital China strategy is both deeply transformative and deeply competitive. In effect, it is the world’s first digital grand strategy. Internally, the party’s deft control of data will create the world’s first “Smart Society,” demonstrating to China’s citizens and the world that capitalism has nothing to offer over socialism. Externally, a successful Digital China strategy will usher in an era of Chinese innovation that brings with it great power status across multiple strategic domains, civilian and military. Although a self-described monumental task, party leaders believe that Digital China is the strategy that will enable China to win the digital age.David Dorman and John Hemmings, “Digital China: The Strategy and its Geopolitical Implications,” Issues and Insights, February 20, 2023.