Promoting digitization in times of COVID-19


China is hosting the 2020 World Internet Conference (WIC) from Nov. 23-24 in the river town of Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. The event aims to promote openness and cooperation in the cyber world and forge cooperation in the digitization of different sectors, especially the economy. 


The theme of the conference this year is “Digital empowerment to create a better future: Jointly build a community of shared future in cyberspace.” It forcefully captures the spirit behind the WIC which has been held regularly since 2014. 


Digitization has been a buzzword ever since the digital revolution at the beginning of the 21st century. As the second decade of the century comes to a close, we can see the increasing impact that information and communication technology (ICT) has had on both private and public life. Most importantly, it has transformed the global economy. 


China has been quick to capture the spirit of the new age and embark on the digitization of trade and commerce. The size of its digital economy increased from 15% of GDP in 2008 to 33% in 2017, mainly driven by the integration of ICT with traditional sectors, according to a working paper by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) titled “China’s Digital Economy: Opportunities and Risks.”


Based on the Fletcher digital adoption index, China’s speed of digitalization is the fastest in their 62-country sample, the IMF wrote. That being said, China still has a long way to go. It ranks 50th out of 131 countries for digital adoption based on the World Bank’s index, 59th out of 139 countries in the World Economic Forum index, and 36th out of 62 in the Fletcher School digital evolution index. 


However, China has become a global leader in several key digital industries including e-commerce, fintech, online payments, cloud computing and ICT exports. For example, the country accounts for more than 40% of global e-commerce transactions. In terms of e-payments, Alipay and WeChat Pay are available at physical retailers in at least 28 countries for the benefit of Chinese tourists. China also accounts for 32% of global ICT goods exports.


The Chinese government is creating a supportive environment for the digital economy by investing in digital infrastructure. This has in turn facilitated the boom of digital industries.


Another important tool used by the government has been the summit which brings together experts to exchange ideas. Top government officials, leaders of international organizations, executives from major tech companies and scholars from both China and abroad take part in the WIC. This year they will discuss a wide range of topics including artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data, 5G, the industrial internet, cyber security, and e-commerce. 


China has a unique edge in the cyber world due to its solid base of over 700 million internet users. This is more than any other country, including India, which has almost the same sized population. 


Keen interest at the highest level of government – such as through building necessary infrastructure – as well as support from tech giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, have helped to develop an ecosystem to build a solid base for digitization.


China has been trying to build bridges through events like the annual WIC. Such summits are important as they bring together global stakeholders to help create a bigger ecosystem making everyone around the world a part of digital cooperation for the benefit of all.


The latest WIC is taking place at a time when the coronavirus has forced people around the globe to reduce outdoor activities and embrace new technologies to go virtual in almost all spheres of life. As all virtual activities require the internet, there could hardly be a better time than now to focus on the development of digitization. 


China is sending a powerful message to the world that it is committed to globalization via digitization and will continue to encourage the use of communication technologies in order to build a joint cyber community of shared values.


The spirit of the WIC has been aptly summed up by Zhao Zeliang, vice minister of the Cyberspace Administration of China, who said: “We’re sending a positive signal that China and the rest of the world will be working together toward digital cooperation. We need to make the global cyberspace more inclusive, balanced and focused on win-win development.”


Source: china.org By Sajjad Malik 

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