The Digital Silk Road: China's Quest to Wire the World and Win the Future
November 15, 2021
An expert on China’s global infrastructure expansion provides an urgent look at the battle to connect and control tomorrow’s networks.
From the ocean floor to outer space, China’s Digital Silk Road aims to wire the world and rewrite the global order. Taking readers on a journey inside China’s surveillance state, rural America, and Africa’s megacities, Jonathan Hillman reveals what China’s expanding digital footprint looks like on the ground and explores the economic and strategic consequences of a future in which all routers lead to Beijing.
If China becomes the world’s chief network operator, it could reap a commercial and strategic windfall, including many advantages currently enjoyed by the United States.
It could reshape global flows of data, finance, and communications to reflect its interests. It could possess an unrivaled understanding of market movements, the deliberations of foreign competitors, and the lives of countless individuals enmeshed in its networks.
However, China’s digital dominance is not yet assured. Beijing remains vulnerable in several key dimensions, the United States and its allies have an opportunity to offer better alternatives, and the rest of the world has a voice. But winning the battle for tomorrow’s networks will require the United States to innovate and take greater risks in emerging markets. Networks create large winners, and this is a contest America cannot afford to lose.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan E. Hillman is a senior fellow with the Economics Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, director of the Reconnecting Asia Project, and the author of The Emperor’s New Road: China and the Project of the Century. He won the Financial Times/McKinsey Bracken-Bower Prize in 2019 and is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School and Brown University. He lives in Washington, DC.
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