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Challenge or Opportunity? How China’s Digital Silk Road May Change Global Technology Order

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Besides challenging the US’ Big Tech dominance across the world, the Beijing-led Digital Silk Road initiative provides its customers with vast opportunities through competitively priced digital products and services.

From 25 to 26 April, the People’s Republic will hold the Fourth Digital China Summit in Fuzhou, the capital of the Fujian Province. The event will be a platform for facilitating cooperation for e-governance and the digital economy, and advance the development of China’s Digital Silk Road (DSR) initiative.

DSR was launched in 2015 by Beijing as part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Within this strategy, China is providing development and financial aid to participating states along the New Silk Road. When it comes to DSR, this assistance includes upgrading recipients’ telecom networks, developing e-commerce and mobile payment systems, as well as artificial intelligence, surveillance, smart cities, cloud computing, and other cutting edge technologies.

​One of DSR’s elements is BeiDou, China’s global satellite navigation system – a worthy rival of the US’ GPS – which has already been adopted by a number of countries in Asia, Middle East, and Africa. According to some estimates, one-third of the countries participating in BRI (approximately 138) are currently cooperating within the framework of DSR initiatives.

​The DSR’s backbone is made up of the Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) 15,000 km-long (9,300 mile) subsea cables meant to tie Asia, Africa, and Europe together. The network, which is designed to transmit over 16Tbps per fibre pair, is owned by Hengtong Group, a China-headquartered international optical fibre and power cable manufacturer.


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Photo : PEACE Cable International Network, Pakistan government

China Digital Silk Road

The Mediterranean section of the cable going from Egypt to France has already been laid. In March 2021, the Special Communications Organisation (SCO), the telecommunications branch of the Pakistan Army, was set to start laying the final stretch of a cross-border fibre optic cable between Rawalpindi and the port cities of Karachi and Gwadar in partnership with China’s Huawei Technologies, according to Nikkei. The PEACE cable is expected to become operational later this year.

DSR Catalyses a More Digitalised World

Meanwhile, American influential think tanks warn that China’s initiative poses a challenge to the established dominance of Western digital companies and could substantially diminish their market share in the future.

“The Digital Silk Road advances China’s bid for technological independence at home while moving it toward the centre of global networks,” noted the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in February 2021.

​According to the think tank, China has become increasingly competitive in delivering advanced telecom and subsea cable systems. Besides this, the DRS initiative is “well-timed, dovetailing with powerful, longer-running trends,” CSIS admitted, stressing that the COVID pandemic made digital infrastructure “even more essential.” The think tank argued that the Biden administration should step up the US technological development to tackle China’s challenge.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US influential nonprofit think tank shares CSIS’ concerns, suggesting that China could resort to espionage and coercion therefore misusing its telecom dominance. Beijing may train interested DSR on how to use surveillance capabilities against opposition groups and how to monitor and censor the internet in real time, according to the think tank.

China’s digital independence bid might play into the hands of global customers, suggest Richard Ghiasy and Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy in their op-ed for The Diplomat, a Washington DC-based magazine specialising in Indo-Pacific affairs.

“A small number of actors lead the tech world, and US tech giants Alphabet (Google), Intel, Amazon, Cisco, and Facebook in particular have a near-global monopoly in their respective domains,” the researchers highlight.

By the end of 2018, American Big Tech owned or leased over half of the undersea cable bandwidth which carried close to 98 percent of international internet data and telephone traffic. “Such dominance is not healthy and several actors, including the EU and Australia, have taken steps to curb these tech giants’ sway,” the researchers pointed out, adding that China, for its part, may provide competitively priced digital products and services.

While theoretically China could gain a “valuable tool of local political influence” by manipulating other countries’ reliance on its infrastructure, this hypothetical scenario, however, “is not exclusive to China,” the authors believe. “As the Edward Snowden revelations and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal showed, any tech provider or cyber tech-advanced actor could abuse their position, if so desired,” Ghiasy and Krishnamurthy remark.

The DSR catalyses a “more digitalised world” which might offer spinoff investment and sales opportunities not only for Chinese tech-firms but also to local companies and non-tech sectors, according to the researchers. At the same time, the Beijing endeavour obviously challenges the US dominance in the digital sphere and global market.

“Regardless of where one stands, amidst a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the global economy, digitalisation and economic growth are as welcome as ever,” the authors conclude.



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[Ticker] US to lift Covid travel-ban on EU tourists

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Fully vaccinated travellers from the EU and the UK will be let back into the US from “early November” onward, the White House said on Monday, ending an 18-month ban and prompting airline firms’ shares to climb. “This new international travel system follows the science to keep Americans … safe,” a US spokesman said. The EU recently recommended increased restrictions on US visitors, amid anger at lack of US reciprocity.

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Ten women and girls killed every day in Mexico, Amnesty report says | Global development

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At least 10 women and girls are murdered every day in Mexico, according to a new report that says victims’ families are often left to carry out their own homicide investigations.

The scathing report, released on Monday by Amnesty International, documents both the scale of the violence and the disturbing lack of interest on the part of Mexican authorities to prevent or solve the murders.

“Mexico is continuing to fail to fulfil its duty to investigate and, therefore, its duty to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of the victims as well as to prevent violence against women,” says the report, Justice on Trial.

“Feminicidal violence and the failings in investigation and prevention in northern Mexico are not anecdotal, but rather form part of a broader reality in the country,” the report adds.

Femicide has been rife in Mexico for decades – most notoriously in an epidemic of murders which claimed the life of some 400 women in the border city Ciudad Juárez during the 1990s. In recent years, a growing feminist movement has held massive street protests against the violence, but authorities have proved unwilling to take action to stop the killing.

“It’s always a question of political will,” said Maricruz Ocampo, a women’s activist in the state of Querétaro.

Ocampo has been part of teams lobbying state governors to issue an alert when femicides reach scandalously high levels – a move to raise awareness and mobilise resources. But officials often resist such moves, she said, as governors worry about their states’ images and investment.

“They refuse to recognise there is a problem,” she said.

The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has also downplayed the problem. He branded the women protesting on 8 March, International Women’s Day, as “conservatives” and alleged a dark hand manipulating the demonstrations.

When asked last year about rising violence against women, he responded, “Tell all the women of Mexico that they are protected and represented, that we’re doing everything possible to guarantee peace and quiet and that I understand that our adversaries are looking for ways to confront us.”

Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women in 2020. Some 940 of those murders were investigated as femicides.

The Amnesty report focused on Mexico state, a vast collection of gritty suburbs surrounding Mexico City on three sides. It has become notorious for femicides over the past decade – and for the way the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, a former Mexico state governor, ignored the problem.

The report found cases of families carrying out their own detective work, which were ignored by investigators. In many cases, authorities contaminated crime scenes or mishandled evidence. They often did not even pursue leads such as geolocation information from victims’ mobile phones.

In the case of Julia Sosa, whose children believe she was killed by her partner, two daughters found her body buried on the suspect’s property – but had to wait hours for police to arrive and process the crime scene. One of her daughters recalled the subsequent interview process, in which “the police officer was falling asleep”.

Sosa’s partner hanged himself, prompting police to close the case, even though family members said there were more leads to pursue.

In states rife with drug cartel violence, activists say cases of femicides go uninvestigated as impunity is commonplace.

“The authorities say it’s organised crime and that’s it,” said Yolotzin Jaimes, a women’s rights campaigner in the southern state of Guerrero. “Many of these aggressors find protection under the excuse of organised crime.”

The persistence of femicides is a stark contrast to recent gains by the women’s movement in Mexico. The country’s supreme court decriminalised abortion earlier this month. A new congress recently sworn in has gender parity and seven female governors will be installed by the end of year – up from just two before last June’s election’s

The decriminalisation of abortion “let off some steam” from the pressure driving the protests “because part of the demands was over the right to choose,” Ocampo said. “But when it comes to violence, we still see it everywhere.”

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US official urges EU to speed up enlargement

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Gabriel Escobar, the US’ newly-appointed acting deputy secretary of state for South Central Europe, has urged Europe to speed up Western Balkans enlargement. “To return 20 years later and see that there hasn’t been much progress on that front was a little disappointing,” he told the RFE/RL news agency Friday, referring to his last post in Europe in 2001. “We would like to see a more rapid integration,” he said.

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