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A human rights watchdog has warned that China is seeking to grow its influence globally through digital means. 

This expansion is primarily facilitated by the “Digital Silk Road,” created in 2015 as part of the broader Belt and Road initiative. The project extends China’s digital reach through advancements in infrastructure like submarine cables, satellites, and 5G technology, positioning its tech industry at the forefront of this push.

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Article 19, a UK-based human rights organization, has criticized the Digital Silk Road for serving dual purposes. According to the group, the Digital Silk Road “has been just as much about promoting China’s tech industry and developing digital infrastructure as it has about reshaping standards and internet governance norms away from a free, open, and interoperable internet in favor of a fragmented digital ecosystem, built on censorship and surveillance, where China and other networked autocracies can prosper.”

Article 19 argues that China has used its technology sector as a proxy to exert influence, with major companies like Huawei, ZTE, and Alibaba playing significant roles. The group also warns that China has engaged numerous Belt and Road participant countries in technical standard agreements to consolidate its digital strategy. This strategy is particularly evident in the Asia Pacific region, which holds strategic importance for Beijing as it deploys next-generation technologies. Some countries, such as Cambodia, have even begun to emulate China’s restrictive digital governance model.

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What is Cambodia doing:
In 2021, the country began building a “National Internet Gateway” similar to China’s “Great Firewall.” China’s system can restrict access to Western media outlets, social media, and other sites the country sees as a danger to its society. Cambodia’s move has drawn criticism from various groups, including the Internet Society, which has warned that it will have “serious consequences for social and economic life, as well as potentially endanger free expression.”

In addition to Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal have expressed interest in developing firewalls similar to those of China. 


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