How COVID-19 created new opportunities for Belt and Road cooperation

By Hu Biliang

Due to the pandemic, the ways people communicate and the ways companies and countries trade have changed dramatically. One obvious change is the fast expansion and development of Internet-based activities such as online shopping, online education, online games and telemedicine. There has been a widespread adoption of the digital economy all over the world. 

The Belt and Road cooperation, in addition to fighting the novel coronavirus unitedly, should also explore digital technologies together. 

The digital economy has contributed two thirds to China’s GDP, which can be a major inspiration for others to seize this opportunity in the new era of the fourth industrial revolution. It would result in tremendous progress in development and also shorten the timeframe for the modernization process. 

Four tasks are vital to utilize the opportunities brought by this digital transformation and fully exploit the Belt and Road cooperation platform:  

Improving the effectiveness of the fight against COVID-19 using advanced digital technologies. For instance, China introduced health code scanning, which can trace the infection route of COVID-19. Other measures, such as video conferences for sharingexperiences in fighting the virus, and telemedicine will also help mitigate the impact of thepandemic. 

While maintaining normal infrastructure, new infrastructure should be added. It is important to keep promoting the digital transition and popularizing smart agriculture, smart manufacture, smart city and similar applications. Advanced infrastructure like 5G stations have to be added. 

Securing the safety of data. China proposed the Global Initiative on Data Security in 2020,urging all states to take a balanced approach to technological progress, economic development and protection of national security and public interests. 

The initiative asks countries to stand against information and communication technology (ICT)activities that impair or steal important data of other states’ critical infrastructure, and oppose mass surveillance of other states and unauthorized collection of personal information of other states with ICT. 

Also, ICT product and service providers should not install backdoors in their products and services to illegally obtain users’ data, control or manipulate users’ systems and devices. States should foster an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for mutual benefit, win-win outcomes and common development.  

Making concerted efforts for the whole world to be digitalized. In this fast-developing digitalized time, we should work to prevent any country or sections of the global populationfrom falling into new poverty brought by digital inequality. This will also fulfill the requirement of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that no one is left behind.  

The author is executive dean and professor of the Belt and Road School, Beijing Normal University  

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