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Expert: China takes lead in bridging internet divide

By Liu Xia and Richard O'Neill | | Updated: 2018-11-11 14:11
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Wang Yiwei, Jean Monnet chair professor at the Institute of International Affairs, Renmin University of China, is interviewed during the fifth World Internet Conference held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, on Nov 7. [Photo by Zhang Xiang/]

China's cyberspace has undergone some earth-shaking developments since 1994 when the country first gained permanent access to the internet, according to Wang Yiwei, Jean Monnet chair professor at the Institute of International Affairs, Renmin University of China.

With a large population, strong capability for application and massive market, China is leveraging its resources to bridge the internet divide, said Wang during an interview with China Daily at the fifth World Internet Conference held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province.

The digital divide refers to the information gap caused by the difference in information technology, network technology ownership, application levels and innovation ability in different countries, regions, industries, enterprises and communities in the global digitalization process.

The digital divide could exist in different aspects. According to Wang, it could occur between different nations, industries and people of different ages and backgrounds, with China having its own digital divide. But this general trend is minimizing, as seen in the miraculous transformation of Wuzhen from a traditional river town into a place known for its development in the internet industry, and Guizhou, which is a leader in the big data industry.

"The United States invented the internet and has led many technological innovations. However, China has a large population and our application capability is very strong. The diligent Chinese people have in recent years turned technological innovations to real productivity, thus many companies use the World Internet Conference as a platform to display their own inventions and seek the application of technologies, which will in turn improve productivity," said Wang.

Internet innovation in a dialectical way, as professor Wang suggested, is a double-edged sword. While making good use of internet innovations can help reduce the digital divide, using them badly may bring about an expansion of the gap, he explained.

"While we have seen that the gap between the rich and the poor in developed countries has widened, we can see it is related to the widespread use of internet and information technology," Wang said, who went on to say that strengthening cooperation in the internet sector among Belt and Road countries will not only bridge the gap at the technical level, but more importantly, will hopefully promote the creation of an inclusive system at the institutional level and promote inclusive globalization, thus proving that the Digital Silk Road Initiative is very forward-looking in its vision.

Despite the advancements, nearly half of the world's population still do not have access to the internet. Wang reiterated the importance of the World Internet Conference, which has gathered experts and scholars from across the world and focused on reducing the digital divide and benefiting people on a global scale, and of China in being pioneers in innovations in the internet industry, with technology companies such as Huawei taking the lead in certain areas for the benefit of the general public.

"The country's internet coverage rate is high, and regional differences in the internet industry are well-contained. Moreover, the gap between rural and urban areas has gradually narrowed, and with high-speed rail and widespread use of the internet, more and more people are able to enjoy the benefits of the internet in the age of globalization and China's reform and opening up" Wang said.

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