The Digital Silk Road: Upgrading the “16+1” Cooperation?

Kerry Brown, Anna Burjanadze

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


China’s interest in the European part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is exemplified by the “16+1” initiative. This initiative is a cooperative framework between the People’s Republic of China (PRC), on the one side, and then 11 EU Member States and 5 Balkan countries on the other (otherwise known as Central European and Eastern Countries (CEEC). It operates in the fields of investment; finance; service; transport and education. Much of the existing literature focuses on the PRC’s growing network of pipeline, port, rail and road infrastructure projects inside the BRI. There has been a growing disparity between the amount of investment the PRC has set aside for the BRI in CEEC and how much has actually been committed as of 2019. This is not a question of the CEEC not requiring investment from the PRC. In fact, this is required not just in hard infrastructure, but also digital infrastructure to ensure that the CEEC can compete in the era of e-commerce. This latter aspect has been neglected in the literature so far, and serves as a case study of the virtual BRI as well as the physical one: digital connectivity. The construction of smart cities will be vital to transforming business and the quality of life inside the CEEC, and BRI investment is a potential ally in this. New smart technologies will be needed to develop the management, tracking and authenticity of goods across borders. To understand this issue better, this article examines the origins of this aspect of the BRI—the Digital Silk Road—its gradual inclusion into the mainstream BRI discourse. Two key themes will be discussed. First, to what extent is a digitally developed PRC compatible with a digitally undeveloped “16+1”. Second, what is the reason behind the PRC’s push for digitalization in the BRI?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChina and the New Silk Road
Editors Harald Pechlaner, Greta Erschbamer, Hannes Thees, Mirjam Gruber
ISBN (Electronic)9783030433994
ISBN (Print)9783030433987
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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