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Digital China

Digital technologies

As new information technologies and the advent of “big data” are reshaping societies around the globe, inquiries into the nature and varieties of digital governance and their consequences become increasingly urgent. “Smart cities” are mushrooming particularly quickly in China, which is home to more than half of the more than 1,000 smart cities worldwide. These city governments have begun to experiment with digital technologies to harness the power of big data analytics for governing society. Emerging practices have momentous implications for the organization of social, political and economic life in China and globally. We systematically study digital governance practices in authoritarian China in a variety of sectors, including health care, environment, traffic, and security. We specifically focus also on a number of key technologies and digital themes: facial recognition technologies, social credit systems, and contact tracing apps.


Digital silk road

Over the past decade, China has started to export its digital infrastructures abroad, such a submarine fiber optic cables, server centers, mobile phone network technologies, surveillance cameras, e-commerce related infrastructure and mobile payment services. 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”. Many Western 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. It can be expected that China’s global digital clout will become more prominent in the future and therefore warrants close scholarly examination. In our research we study the modes of implementation, impacts and risks associated with Chinese overseas investments into digital infrastructure and platforms. More specifically, we seek to answer questions including: How are digital infrastructure projects being implemented and what is the role 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 and the civil society?