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China's Race to Get Developing World Online
 

Chinese tech companies are making good on President Xi Jinping's promise that China will provide investment and technical support to expand Internet access in developing countries.

They are busy advertising international projects and products targeted at foreign markets at the "Light of the Internet" exhibition, part of the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen where Xi made the pledge on December 16.

Search engine Baidu's booth features a billboard explaining how its online translation service is helping communication between Eurasian countries as they strengthen regional infrastructure under the Belt and Road Initiative being led by China.

Digital divide

The Internet is of course integral to this initiative, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, based on greater digital data exchange, now sweeping the world. Developing countries lag behind in Internet infrastructure; they are weak links in a chain as international trade increasingly moves online.

In some countries, less than 7 percent of the population have Internet access compared with the global average of 46 percent, rising to 80 percent in some developed countries, according to Zhao Houlin, secretary of the International Telecommunication Union.

"The essence of the Internet is connectivity, and herein lies the value of information. We need better IT infrastructure for information to travel smoothly," said Xi in his opening address to the conference on December 16.

"Only in this way can we narrow the digital divide between countries, regions and communities and ensure full flow of information."

A truly world wide web

Chinese Internet companies are keen to capitalize on demand abroad and help close these gaps. Alibaba has plans for a global e-commerce system called E-WTO. Phone maker Xiaomi is studying the African market after success in Brazil and Indonesia. Phone designer APUS is marketing simple cellphone operation systems in developing countries.

Other countries in the Belt and Road network are excited about the opportunities made clear by Xi's speech. For example, Valeriy M. Matsel, Consul General of the Republic of Belarus in Shanghai, is seeking more investment and cooperation from Chinese companies.

IT firms Huawei and ZTE already have branches in a Sino-Belarus industrial park, and Matsel, who recently met with Alibaba executives, hopes products from Belarus can be sold in China and worldwide through similar e-commerce platforms.

"China is expert in information infrastructure development and Internet technology, which are much needed in developing countries. The combination of China's "Internet Plus" strategy and the Belt and Road Initiative will change the way in which countries cooperate," Matsel said.

(Xinhua News Agency December 17, 2015)

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