Digital Silk Road
Interview with Prof. Don Lewis

Have you ever ordered something from Alibaba? Used Alipay? Or Paypal? Congratulations, you are already surfing the Digital SilkRoad Network! However, most people are not aware of the Digital Silkroad, how much we are already using it in business and daily life and how many opportunities it brings to businesses in the EU.
The Digital Silkroad is one of the least known pillars of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and basically means that the legal and also the physical infrastructure is being created and made available for companies and individual customers but also for governments to do digital trade payment and documentation along the Silk Road.
My interview partner and BRI expert Prof. Don Lewis is a Foreign Law Expert with the School of International Law, China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), in Beijing, and also a Research Associate with the University of San Francisco School of Management, China Business Studies Initiative (CBSI). 

The most important points about the Digital BRI/ Digital Silkroad you need to know:

  • The Maritime Silkroad includes but is not limited to undersea cables connecting the EU and US and other Regions to China
  • The concept of the Digital Silkroad has been public since at least 2014
  • The Digital Silkroad is all about ICT connectivity along the Silkroad
  • It is operational and rapidly expanding and there are many players in this space already
  • Concrete examples of the digital silk road include Alibaba and cross-border e-commerce platforms as well as wechat e-payment systems.
  • It’s not just Chinese companies that are involved. Europeans can buy goods online and use their Credit cards, Alipay or Paypal accounts or Wechat accounts for purchases that involve goods in China on Alibaba for example.
  • Microsoft and Amazon are also involved, at least outside of China.
  • It implicates multiple industries and technologies including: e-trade facilitation (including interoperable G2G and B2G single windows for electronic trade transactions), B2B, eLogistics, eCommerce, cloud computing, big data analytics, IOT (internet of things), Fintech, Blockchain, AI, Connected Smart City e-ports and e-Government platforms, cyber security, online dispute resolution, social media, mobile platforms and mobile apps
  • Internationally and at the multilateral level: China and enough other Countries have already ratified the UN framework agreement on cross-border paperless trade for Asia-Pacific relating to e-trade facilitation and e-commerce. It has entered into force as of February 2021
  • Other opportunities for international cooperation come from a legal perspective: The Digital Rules of the Road or the Rules of the Digital Silk Road are cooperative endeavors to co-create the legal infrastructure for the Digital Silk Road.
  • There are very important areas in terms of providing a rational and formal structure for the conduct of international electronic transactions that these Rules likely will encompass: interoperability standards, internet governance, jurisdiction, conflict of laws, mutual legal assistance, trade facilitation, electronic contracts and documents, intellectual property rights, privacy, personal data protection, cross-border dispute resolution and the convergence and integration of trade facilitation and e-commerce
  • EU business is well positioned to avail itself of many opportunities – whether it’s IOT, Fintech, Blockchain, AI and even the development of Smart Cities such as those springing up in Shanghai
  • We also see interconnected national e-payment gateways springing up all over Asia right now including China: There are now integrated cross-border e-payment systems that actually also implicate Central Banks or the Major Banks in these countries
  • A very tangible business opportunity in the EU are Wechat programs where Chinese Tourists can come to a European City like Vienna, use their own Wechat app and pay in the Wechat program directly from their Chinese bank account for an Austrian product or entrance fee in Vienna. This will boost consumption because it’s easier it’s more convenient.

Professor Don Lewis is a highly distinguished scholar with decades of insight into Chinese Law and Politics. His academic track record includes:

  • Former U.S. Fulbright Law Professor to China (Zhongshan and Nankai Universities, Canton and Tianjin, respectively)
  • Former Visiting Associate Professor, Stanford Law School
  • Former Associate Professor, The University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law;
  • Former Academic Coordinator, WTO Asia Pacific Regional Trade Policy Course (RTPC) Program – for the governments of Asia Pacific (including China)  
  • Former United Nations Consultant & Advisor – especially on e-trade facilitation and e-commerce
  • Former Director, Microsoft-HKU Asia Pacific ICT Research Network (ICTRN)

    Digital Silk Road

    In the next Interviews, we will speak about the following topics:


    BRI & UN SDGS: The BRI has direct links to the UN Sustainable development goals. Prof. Lewis just published a paper on the BRI in connection to the SDGs and describes the results of the paper.


    What is most important for EU companies to know about BRI in order to participate effectively in BRI projects?

    WordPress Cookie Notice by Real Cookie Banner