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China's Digital Silk Road - Sparking Tensions Improving Lives?

Contact: Prof. Genia Kostka (g.kostka@fu-berlin.de)

In many countries, political debate circles around China’s possible clout of contesting the liberal economic order. However, scholarly findings provide an inconclusive picture on the impacts of China’s transnational economic engagement politically, economically, and on society. This is even more so the case for China’s global provision of digital infrastructures, such a submarine fiber optic cables, server centers, mobile phone network technologies, surveillance cameras and e-commerce related infrastructure. The United States, Australia and several European countries have condemned Chinese companies’ engagement in what is defined as digital “critical infrastructure” due to concerns over data protection. On the other hand, such investments might improve peoples’ lives by offering new forms of security, efficient traffic management and environmental protection, as well as better access to communication and information. Since the announcement of the “Belt and Road” Initiative the provision of these digital infrastructures takes place under what is been referred to as the “Digital Silk Road”. In thereby receiving tailwind from multiple levels of government, it can be expected that China’s global digital clout will become more prominent in the future and therefore warrants close scholarly examination.  Comparatively little is known about the modes of implementation, impacts and risks associated with China’s global digital infrastructure provision. This project therefore seeks answers to the following questions: How are China’sdigital infrastructure projects being implemented and what are the roles of the different interest groups involved? What are major risks and potential for conflict of individual projects and in what way are they being mitigated by stakeholders from the state, the business sector and the civil society? What are framing approaches by government and business elites and what are the implications for project implementation? Seeking to develop a framework to understand China’s growing digital clout, this project synthesizes theoretical and methodological approaches from the field of peace and conflict studies and uses them in an interdisciplinary manner with concepts and methods from the area studies, political science, sociology, economics, anthropology, and science and technology studies.