The next wave of economic prosperity is happening in the digital space through advances in telecommunications, data mining, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. Deciding how those technologies interact and the standards that all stakeholders must follow is determined by international standard-setting bodies, such as the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission. Top-tier corporations, mainly from the West, have dominated the standard-setting bodies, forcing the globe to adopt their technologies and license their patents.
Wishing to expand the economic potential of Chinese tech companies in international markets, the Chinese government has been working to increase its influence in international standard-setting bodies. China has been using the Digital Silk Road (DSR) as both a means to sell Chinese technology to foreign states as well as to gain market share to better its position on international standard-setting bodies. The DSR is part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in which China funds the expansion of infrastructure projects in developing nations, such as internet and mobile phone technology. In return, BRI partner nations agree to interoperability and data-sharing agreements with China.
Standard setting and the DSR are very much an economic project, more so than a geopolitical move. But with the number of partner countries involved in the BRI, China’s moves in digital standards are having impacts globally, which is shifting the balance of power from Western tech giants.