- The Expansion of China's Digital Silk Road and Japan's Response
China, Japan, Information and Communications Technology, Cybersecurity, Free and Open Indo-Pacific
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This essay provides a Japanese perspective on how China is expanding its technology influence among countries involved in its Belt and Road Initiative and how Japan has responded.
China has been highly proactive in influencing global technology among countries involved in its Belt and Road Initiative. The Digital Silk Road supports Beijing's comprehensive internationalization through economic and technological integration. Chinese companies have begun expanding their information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem to Digital Silk Road countries, including physical infrastructure such as fiber-optic cables and servers as well as software and applications developed by Chinese firms. China's strategy includes strengthening national soft power to give China greater appeal and foreign influence. The Digital Silk Road both links countries closer to China via ICT and gives China involvement in these countries' technological development. Japan has prioritized cybersecurity issues and has put forward its own international strategy on development and regional security, the "free and open Indo-Pacific" vision, which includes critical ICT components such as new fiber-optic cable construction in the region.
• ICT is key to increasing China's influence in technology, industries, standards, and legal frameworks. Chinese legal systems and technology standards are particularly attractive to regional countries with authoritarian political systems given that China has successfully created a model that achieved both economic development and information control.
• China's field for strategic competition in the cyber domain is not only technology development but also standards-setting and legal frameworks.
• Japan has put forward its free and open Indo-Pacific vision and behaved cautiously so as not to confront China. At the same time, it is trying to find ways to cooperate in international 5G deployment with countries that are maintaining distance from the Digital Silk Road. Japan can be expected to continue to pursue cooperative relations with other countries through strategic competition rather than through direct confrontation with China. [End Page 42]
China is aggressively investing in infrastructure development in Asia. In 2013, Beijing launched the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, which together are known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI consists of projects to build highways, railways, seaports, and other infrastructure linking China to more parts of Asia, as well as other parts of the globe, and enhancing regional economic development. China is supporting these projects with large amounts of funds and various forms of construction and technological support, including information and communications technology (ICT). In 2017, Beijing established the Belt and Road Digital Economy International Cooperation Initiative (the Digital Silk Road, or DSR), which focuses on ICT development as a component of BRI.
China has realized the importance of becoming a major ICT player and has invested resources to become a global leader in the sector. ICT influences not only technology development but also standards-setting and legal frameworks, which are attractive instruments of power for developing countries with authoritarian political systems. China thus has built an ICT ecosystem in which its own companies hold dominant positions. Now these companies are expanding their products and services to countries in Eurasia, the Americas, and Africa as part of BRI and are front runners in the development of 5G mobile networks.
In response, Japan has behaved cautiously so as not to confront China and BRI directly. However, Japan has put forward its own international strategy on development and regional security, the "free and open Indo-Pacific" vision, focused on a region that is vital to both the United States and Japan in terms of their economies and security. The Abe administration promotes this as a cooperative vision open to any country working toward the rule of law, economic prosperity, peace, and stability. The vision is based on strategic economic competition in which companies compete for market share under a liberal economic model. China is not directly referenced.
This essay provides a Japanese perspective on how China developed policies related to the DSR and the impact of DSR activities on emerging technologies...