Pakistan exploring Digital Silk Road to reap benefits

YINCHUAN: Over the years, the countries along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), including Pakistan, have collaborated to explore the Digital Silk Road and reaped fruitful benefits in this regard.

Li Yikai, deputy director of Centre for International Economic and Technological Cooperation, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China (MIIT), said this at the 2021 Online Silk Road Conference of the Fifth China-Arab States Expo held in China’s northwest city of Yinchuan, Chinese media reported.

Li added, “From 2019 to 2020, there are notable achievements in digital development in BRI countries. For example, the Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) was deployed in Pakistan’s airports, providing accurate timing services for the operations.”

Apart from the cooperation in the satellite navigation system, digital cooperation in other areas also abounds between China and Pakistan.

According to a Nikkei Asia report, the Digital Silk Road is part of the broader Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The fibre cable will link to the Pakistan East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) submarine cable in the Arabian Sea, to service countries participating in BRI and Europe.

It is currently being laid between Rawalpindi and the port cities of Karachi and Gwadar. The $240-million project, which is in partnership with China’s Huawei Technologies, was approved by the government last week. The laying of sea cable in Pakistan’s territorial waters will begin in March, following government approval this month for Cybernet, a local internet service provider, to construct an Arabian Sea landing station in Karachi.

The Mediterranean section of the cable is already being laid, and runs from Egypt to France. The 15,000 kilometre-long cable is expected to go into service later this year. The PEACE cable will provide the shortest direct internet route between participating countries, and will drastically reduce internet data transfer speeds. It is expected to help reduce Pakistan’s exposure to internet outages from damaged submarine cables by providing an additional route for internet connectivity.

According to Eyck Freymann, author of ‘One Belt One Road: Chinese Power Meets the World,’ the BRI is evolving to place less emphasis on traditional heavy infrastructure, and more on high-tech cooperation and digital services.

He told Nikkei Asia that “Beijing wants to dominate the physical infrastructure underlying global communications, particularly the internet,” adding: “This will give it an advantage in internationalising its tech sector and pursuing future tech-related deals with partner countries.”

The ambitious multi-trillion-dollar BRI initiative (or the new Silk Road), announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to boost connectivity and cooperation between East Asia, Europe, and East Africa. It is expected to significantly boost global trade, cutting trading costs in half for the countries involved, according to expert estimates.


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