China’s Digital Expansion in the Global South

What are the implications for global South states, firms and consumers of China’s emergence as a digital superpower?

In the past decade or so, China has emerged as a global digital superpower, with digital exports and activities reaching out around the world. This has naturally attracted attention from scholars but most research to date has focused on the digital economy within China or on impacts within the high-income countries of the Global North.

Much less-researched have been the implications for other low- and middle-income developing countries of the Global South, where China’s growing digital presence is impacting different areas:

  • infrastructure, for example, via Digital Silk Road components of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and contributions to construction of smart cities;
  • the economic sphere, for example, with Chinese e-commerce platforms allowing greater penetration of local markets;
  • the social sphere, for example, via TikTok and other Chinese social media platforms; and
  • the political sphere, for example, with export of Chinese surveillance systems, and growing influence on regional and global digital governance.

What little has been researched and written about China’s digital involvement in the Global South has often taken one of two distinct positions. Either from the perspective of China itself, tending to put a positive gloss on activities, or from the perspective of the US, seeing China’s digital growth as an economic or political threat.

Scholarship from the Global South and/or from the perspective of Global South actors has been rare.

Recognising this, the “China’s Digital Expansion in the Global South” project has been initiated, seeking to address this knowledge gap. Its first major contribution is a review of current literature and the identification of future research priorities in this field:

This forms part of a special issue in the journal, The Information Society. In the special issue, six papers discuss China’s digital impact in Latin America, North Africa and Asia covering issues including platforms, e-commerce, technology transfer and digital surveillance.

For further information see also: