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UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser

Shaping the Digital World Order: Norms and Agency along the Digital Silk Road in Southeast Asia (NORM)

Alternative title: Påvirkning av den Digitale Verdensorden: Normer og Påvirkning langs Den Digitale Silkeveien in Sør-Øst Asia (NORM)

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

The NORM project explores the implementation of China’s Digital Silk Road (DSR) in selected cases across Southeast Asia, a region where China invests heavily in digital technology. Its primary objective is to identify how the DSR shapes the digital world order and its norms, and how relevant stakeholders in developing countries respond to the initiative. Through the DSR, Chinese companies provide investments in high-tech developments, including artificial intelligence, telecommunications networks, surveillance technology, cloud computing, e-commerce, and Smart City programmes. We need to know more about the DSR because the potential contest to rewrite global rules could result in a technological and normative rift that will shape the geopolitics of the 21st century. The initiative may enhance global digital connectivity, but it can also spread authoritarianism, undermine democracy and fundamental human rights, and increase digital inequalities. Yet, despite its intrinsic political significance, we lack fundamental insights into the political and social consequences for recipient developing countries. Through a combination of qualitative methods including field interviews and document analysis, the team will examine how relevant stakeholders in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines navigate the opportunities and risks presented by China’s digital technology investments. The project will last for 45 months and is divided into three parts. The first develops a theoretical framework to analyze international norms governing cyberspace and how these are interpreted by actors along the Digital Silk Road. The second looks at how stakeholders from government, business and civil society in the three countries negotiate DSR investments to serve their interests and agendas. The third determines if the three countries align with the Chinese or the Western technological and normative model, or if they create their own, and what the implications are for the digital world order.

The Digital Silk Road (DSR) is the component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that aims to establish China as the global technological superpower. The potential contest to rewrite global rules could result in a technological and normative rift that will shape the geopolitics of the 21st century. Yet, despite the intrinsic political significance of China’s Digital Silk Road, we lack fundamental insights into its political and social consequences for recipient developing countries. Recognising the imperative to fill this knowledge gap, NORM takes a comparative approach to examining how relevant stakeholders in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines navigate the opportunities and risks presented by China’s digital technology investments. In this interdisciplinary project, we focus our empirical analysis and theoretical development on the political and social consequences of DSR projects in recipient developing countries, as well as for the digital world order. In WP1, we develop a theoretical framework to analyse international norms governing cyberspace and how these are interpreted by actors along the Digital Silk Road. In WP2, we build comparative knowledge on how stakeholders from government, business and civil society in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines negotiate DSR investments to serve their interests and agendas. In WP3, we determine if the three countries align with the Chinese or the Western technological and normative model, or if they create their own, and what the implications are for the digital world order. In WP4, we manage communication activities through targeted channels to scholarly, policy and public audiences. In doing so we realise and communicate our objective of identifying how China’s Digital Silk Road shapes the digital world order and its norms.

Funding scheme:

UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser