Linking Digital Silk Road to Cambodian digital economy

The questions of what benefits China’s Digital Silk Road architecture will bring to Cambodia and what Cambodia needs to do to take full advantages of it are central to the understanding of the management and governance of a digital economy.

For the Cambodian economy, the question of whether it is too late or too early for Cambodia to embrace digital Cambodia is irrelevant. A central question is to what extent linking the Chinese Digital Silk Road would mean to Cambodia’s growth and development. But what does it take to build a robust digital nation and what does it mean to society, government and economy?

When China launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, the world soon recognised that China has envisioned a leadership in the global economy. China’s Digital Silk Road built along the BRI encompasses 5G mobile technology and installation of fibre optic cables, international trunk passageways, mobile structures, e-commerce links, and use of artificial intelligence (AI) in which China’s national tech giants Huawei, Alibaba, ZTE, and Tencent could lead in delivering high-quality internet products at a comparatively lower cost.

The speedy and bulky advancement in technological innovation and digital technology in China has become the potent source of China’s global power projection. Crucially, it has been lubricating global digital connectivity in the BRI geography that stretches from Southeast Asia to South and Central Asia to the Middle East and to Eastern and Central Europe.

Cambodia is in no better position than to embrace this trend and advance its core economic interest to catch up with the regional and global digital economy revolution by adopting a full set of technologies, namely e-payment and e-commerce platforms, big data, machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) in commerce and trade and social connectivity. The state’s pivotal role is to embrace the Digital Silk Road and digital economy by paying utmost attention to ensuring a digital critical infrastructure and cybersecurity.

When Prime Minister Hun Sen envisioned the digital transformation towards Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR4.0) in late March 2019, he envisioned a deepening of investment in digital infrastructure, including fiber optics and public utilities that connect households, businesses and data centers through faster, affordable and accessible nation-wide internet connections.

To benefit from the regional digital architecture under the Digital Silk Road requires not only a political will and but also a prudential governance system to get rid of a fragmented policy agenda. The priority is for the Cambodian government to take bold actions and innovative initiatives that include heavy investment in accumulation of digital capital and technologies. The government needs to devise a ‘quantitative’ roadmap for having a full-fledged digital Cambodia to invigorate and widen the foundation of the national economy and to diversify the sources of economic growth. In addition, multiple coordinated frameworks must be built and comprehensive digitalisation strategies and concrete action plans aided by targets and a timeframe must be formulated to actualise the goals of pioneering a development agenda as laid out in the Cambodia 2015-2025 Industrial Development Policy.

Developing a digital Cambodia must contain four spectrums: (i) digital economy, (ii) digital government, (iii) digital society, and (iv) digital ecosystem. The economic digitalisation requires a broader application of information and communication technology (ICT), new digital technologies, and digital functions, including AI. Cambodia needs to muster a critical mass of digital technologies and capital to drive further innovations in industrial and service value creations.

Dr Kimlong Chheng is director of the Centre for Governance Innovation and Democracy at the Phnom Penh-based Asian Vision Institute.

Full article available at: