Represent China now accounts for 23 percent of cross-border data flows, nearly double that of the United States, which ranks second by a large margin of 12 percent.
The United States was the dominant country when it came to the flow of data across borders in the early days of the Internet boom in 2001, and it was the place where tech companies were. But the global data system is changing rapidly.
And Chinese leadership could turn into a dominant feature as the formerly globalized Internet begins to disintegrate and transform into information networks that feature national borders.
Information on cross-border data flows from the International Telecommunication Union showed that cross-border data flows from China in 2019 far exceeded any of the other 10 countries examined, including the United States.
Beijing’s strength lies in its links to the rest of Asia, and while the United States accounted for 45 percent of data flows in and out of China in 2001, that number dropped to just 25 percent last year.
Asian countries now account for more than half of the total, notably Vietnam at 17 percent and Singapore at 15 percent.
Beijing has used the Belt and Road Infrastructure Initiative to encourage technology companies in the private sector, such as Alibaba and Tencent, to expand abroad.
The Ant Group mobile payment platform, Alipay, is available in more than 55 countries and is used by 1.3 billion people.
China overtook the United States in 2014, and its influence grew beyond its borders only in the following years.
With China becoming the world’s data superpower, it controls vast amounts of resources critical to its future economic competitiveness.
Data from foreign sources could provide an advantage in developing AI and information technologiesMoreover, China could be the biggest beneficiary of the divided internet.
Washington has tried over the past year to keep China out of its network infrastructure, but its efforts to build a united front of liberal democracies for this purpose have not achieved good results.
In July, the European Court of Justice annulled the data privacy agreement negotiated between the United States and the European Union, citing insufficient US protection for personal data.
The court opposed the US monitoring of foreign citizens to monitor potential terrorist threats, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross responded that he was very disappointed with the decision.
Disruptions to global data flows have affected the exchange of knowledge over the Internet, and more than 50 million programmers around the world are using the GitHub platform to collaborate in activities such as writing code, leading to numerous technological developments.
But Chinese engineers are now starting to use the separate Chinese platform called Gitee due to concern Sino-US tensions could affect access to GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft.
The divided internet means that countries that can collect large amounts of data within their borders will have an advantage in developing AI and other technologies.
There are indications that the population is becoming a major driver of innovation and economic growth, with China’s share in 2018 reaching 26.5 percent. One of the most cited research papers on artificial intelligence is fast approaching the US share of 29 percent.
The division of the Internet affects the world’s ability to work together to solve big problems, such as: the Coronavirus pandemic, environmental degradation and inequality.
And Tim Berners Lee, who invented the web, warns that cyber conflict can affect every nation’s ability to move to the digital world and advance humanity as a whole.