Building the Digital Silk Road

Helmut von Struve

As the Belt and Road Interna
tional Summit 2018 kicks off in
Beijing, under the motto “Connect·Create·Collaborate”, it’s a good time to examine the new opportunities the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) brings to Pakistan and the wider region.
The summit will bring together key stakeholders in the BRI, including countries and regions, encourage thought leadership exchange, pave the way to sharing know-how to boost co-creation, and elevate international collaboration to a higher level. China’s BRI is the most important and impactful global infrastructure program of our time. It has the potential to become the blueprint for a new world trade order in times when globalization has been a reality full of challenges and opportunities – and requires farsightedness and courage to offer bold, transnational solutions that help bridge national divides.
Pakistan is set to become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the BRI. The country has a strategic position that makes it a perfect bridge between Europe and Asia. At the heart of BRI efforts in Pakistan is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a vital economic route that runs through Asia. Pakistan is believed to have the power to connect 86 percent of the world’s population, giving it incredible potential to become a trade and industrial hub.
CPEC enables Pakistan to optimize its share in BRI and boost its economic prosperity through cooperation with China. But collaboration between the two countries isn’t limited to CPEC. Chinese companies and banks have already made inroads into Pakistan and have helped build and finance projects there, ranging from infrastructure to power generation.
For one, Siemens has recently delivered two of its H-Class gas turbines to Jhang Combined Cycle Power Plant Project in Punjab. The project, which is the biggest RLNG power plant in the country, will not only boost power generation capacity significantly in Punjab, but is also a great example of how BRI is working. Siemens, China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) and the government of Pakistan collaborated to bring this project to fruition. The Chinese EPC found an ideal partner in Siemens for overseas power generation, due to its global reach, while also supporting the BRI through this tie-up. The power plant will supply 4 million households with reliable electricity when completed in 2019.
Advocates of the BRI believe it will generate thousands of jobs in Pakistan, bring in Chinese financing and new opportunities for economic growth. In total, China has pledged to allocate $63 billion to develop Pakistan’s power plants, sea ports, airports, roads and other infrastructure. In 2017, the volume of trade between China and countries along the BRI route, including Pakistan, has been estimated at $1.1 trillion, a growth of almost 15 percent over the previous year.
The BRI aims to reach out to the world, connect people and economies and help societies prosper in multiple regions. To quantify this, we expect infrastructure projects of around 1 trillion euros to be completed or in execution in BRI countries with Chinese participation by 2025. While investment in conventional infrastructure such as power plants, railroad or industrial zones will shape BRI in the near future, it will extend far beyond that to digitalization. Digitalization will play a key role in bringing long-term collaboration and success to the BRI initiative. This is what China terms as the “Digital Silk Road”, an idea in which it seeks to leverage the power of digital industry to drive the development of traditional industries, shape global e-commerce and set standards for the global digital market landscape.
China’s long-term, determined planning will accelerate much needed infrastructure projects in the currently announced 69 BRI countries. It will foster economic growth and enhance the quality of people’s lives in those countries. Digitalization can bring an additional layer of benefits to projects in electrification, transportation, smart cities development or intelligent buildings. Using open Internet of Things (IoT) operating systems such as MindSphere, for example, can become an integral part of the “Digital Silk Road”, bringing about numerous benefits. Connecting hundreds of assets and enabling data analysis can significantly reduce cost and boost efficiencies, deriving value from data.
Large corporations such as Siemens, with a comprehensive portfolio, global footprint, cutting-edge innovations and financial solutions, can drive forward global cooperation and co-creation which can benefit everyone involved.
As Pakistan seeks to drive economic growth, digital technologies will support its ambitions. Along with its strategic location as a trade link between Asia and Europe, Pakistan can emerge as a clear winner in the BRI’s “Digital Silk Road”.
—The writer is Managing Director of Siemens in Pakistan.

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