On 15 May 2017, at the opening of the Belt and Road (B&R) Forum for International Cooperation, the Chinese President Xi Jinping declared:
“We should pursue innovation-driven development and intensify cooperation in frontier areas such as digital economy, artificial intelligence (AI), nanotechnology and quantum computing, and advance the development of big data, cloud computing and smart cities so as to turn them into a digital silk road of the 21st century. It is not just about physical connectivity but also digital connectivity. Internet of Things connectivity will be an integral part of the initiative. (“Full text of President Xi’s speech at opening of Belt and Road forum”, Xinhua net, 14/05/2017).
Five months later, on 17 October 2017, President Xi Jinping, during his speech given in front of the participants to the 19th congress of the Chinese Communist Party, also said:
“Deepen supply-side structural reform. […] Accelerate the development of advanced manufacturing sectors, promote the profound convergence of the Internet, big data, artificial intelligence and the real economy, foster new growth points and create new drivers in areas such as mid- and high-end consumption, innovative leadership, greenness and low-carbon, the sharing economy, modern supply chains, human capital services and other such areas. […] Strengthen the construction of basic infrastructure networks for irrigation, railways, roads, waterways, aviation, pipelines, the electricity grid, information, logistics, … » ” (“What did Xi Jinping say about cyberspace ?”, China Copyright and Media, October 17, 2017).
In the meantime, the Chinese State Council issued the “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan” (新一代人工智能发展规划) for the development of AI that aims at turning China into the AI world leader by 2030, through mammoth investments into research development (“China’s got a huge artificial intelligence plan”, Bloomberg Technology, 21 July 2017).
In other words, the highest levels of the Chinese government are currently coupling the development of the AI revolution with the deployment of the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative (or New Silk Road, a.k.a, previously the “One Belt, One Road” initiative). This grand strategy, launched in 2013, aims at creating a land and maritime international transport, trade, and finance Chinese infrastructure, which spans Asia, Russia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Its aim is to find international reserves for the resources and products necessary to the development and enrichment of China (Jean-Michel Valantin, “China and the New Silk Road – From oil wells to the moon … and beyond”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, July 6 2015). This endeavour is deployed on such a scale that it becomes a new political, economic and strategic force in the globalised world, for the Chinese national interest.
This coupling of the Belt&Road with the development of cyberspace and of artificial intelligence was furthered on 2 and 3 December 2017, during the Fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen. Then, remarks from the congratulatory letter by President Xi Jinping stated the necessity to build “a common future in the cyberspace”. On the margin of the conference, China, along with Asian, Middle Eastern and European countries – namely Serbia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Laos, Thailand, and Turkey – launched the “Digital Belt and Road”. The conference was also attended by Huawei, Beidou and Tencent, the Chinese Telecom and artificial intelligence and supercomputer giants, as well as by U.S. Apple and Tesla (Chen Qingqing, “Consensus grows at internet conference“, Global Times, 2017/12/3,).
In this article, we shall study how the spread of the B&R integrates the deployment of the “sinosphere” through the increasing use of AI as a tool to reinforce the efficiency of the international transport, information and communication infrastructures that actually shape the New Silk Road/B&R. Reciprocally, this will allow us to understand how the B&R is supporting the development of AI and how this dynamic is fostering the political influence of China. Then, we shall focus upon the political meaning of this coupling of the B&R grand strategy with the AI development.
About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Geopolitics Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.
Featured image: By Geralt, Pixabay, Public Domain.