Digital Silk Road and its role in the China-Brazil Relation

This post provides a report of the webinar “Digital Silk Road as a promoter of closer people to people ties” that took place on October 22 as part of the 4th Seminar Brazil-China Dialogue. Sofia Chang, CyberBRICS researcher at CTS-FGV, moderated the session, joined by Fred Arruda (C.E.S.A.R. institute), Shen Yi (Fudan University), Lin Baihe (China Mobile International Brazil) and In Hsieh (Chinnovation).

Ms. Chang introduced the debate highlighting how the development of digital technologies in the last decade have brought about a profound transformation in people-to-people ties between China and Brazil, connecting cultures and populations alongside markets and institutions. The Digital Silk Road project aims at advancing the connection between peoples, countries and economies, focusing on many infrastructural and technical aspects of the technologies that shorten distances across the globe.

The presentation by Mr. Arruda, focused on C.E.S.A.R.’s role as an accelerator of innovative technological projects, showcased an example of the transformation that emerges from investment in developing an entrepreneurial space where ideas can be shared and collaborations can be built. The institute is focused on many key areas involved in digital transformation processes, such as cybersecurity, industry 4.0 and data science, coupling educational activities with start-up incubation and acceleration. Thus, many notable companies have emerged from C.E.S.A.R.’s innovation hub at Porto Digital, in Recife, and many more partnerships – including within the scope of the Digital Silk Road initiative – might ensue.

Mr. Shen Yi’s presentation analysed the Digital Silk Road initiative under the perspective of three main challenges society currently faces. First, the emergence of the covid-19 pandemic, which has made bare the fragile balance on which economies lie and the significant difficulties it has brought to enable sustainable development. In face of this, BRICS countries need to develop a more detailed roadmap and plan considering the great depression that might come because of this pandemic.

This is even more critical considering the trials of geopolitics and global diplomacy, especially in US-China relations, and the looming threat of a crisis in the provision of public goods. BRICS countries need to prepare to contribute more actively to the driving forces of the world economy.

Second, the need to establish national ecosystems that ensure the development of digital technologies and that this development benefits the entirety of a country’s population. It is very clear that different peoples have different capacities to enjoy the benefits of digital technologies. BRICS countries already have a good framework of cooperation and can be protagonists in digital cooperation.

Third, the need to establish ecosystems that ensure that the Digital Belt and Road initiative benefits most of the populations among the BRICS countries. Thus, BRICS countries need to create ecosystems that ensure that new technologies and digital economies benefit all peoples equally, lest they risk increasing inequality gaps. In order to so, digital economies need to empower people, especially in developing countries, and develop more frameworks and mechanisms to enhance digital economy cooperation.

Mr. Lin Baihe’s presentation focused on infrastructural aspects of the operations of China Mobile International, highlighting how digital infrastructure is the “foundation” of a “bridge” (the Digital Silk Road) which will allow cultural exchanges, regional interactions and business relations. China Mobile International has invested significantly into 5G infrastructure, currently holding more than 5 million base stations, 410,000 of which are based on 5G, and attending to around 250 million 5G data package clients. Mr. Baihe further noted that their goal is to focus on end-users, be they individuals or companies, meeting the demand for internet connection.

Mr. In Hsieh highlighted the speed with which innovation moves in China, citing notorious business leaders like Jack Ma (Alibaba) and Colin Huang. Mr. Hsieh argued that reasons for the quick pace of innovation in the country include a competitive environment and workplace, a great population marked by a very strong work ethic, a growing middle-class and a focus on STEM. On top of that, the country’s population shows eager adoption of new technologies and companies have developed a fruitful model of ecosystem innovation and a focus on achieving innovation that changes everyday life and provides answers to real issues.

This report was written based on the notes of the CyberBRICS team members Sofia Chang, Eduardo Mattos and Walter B. Gaspar. You can find the full recording of the event on YouTube: