Building a Digital Silk Road? Situating the Internet in China's Belt and Road Initiative

Hong Shen


Recently China has adopted the Belt and Road Initiative as a core component of its foreign policy. An important goal of the initiative is to connect China to major Eurasian and African nations through infrastructure building, including Internet infrastructure. Drawing on the critical political economy tradition to media policies, this article offers a broad overview of the communication and information segment of the initiative, which has so far been undervalued or even overlooked in the existing literature. Based on a two-level document analysis, I argue that a growing and complex alliance has been formed between the state and its homegrown Internet companies in building a “digital Silk Road,” with a multifaceted aim to mitigate industrial overcapacity, facilitate corporate China’s global expansion, support the internationalization of the renminbi, construct a China-centered transnational network infrastructure, and promote an Internet-enabled “inclusive globalization.” The highly dynamic state-capital interplays, however, continue to create tensions and conflicts.


China, Belt and Road Initiative, digital Silk Road, political economy, Internet industry, Internet police, state-capital relationship

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