'East data, west computing' project can help promote common prosperity
China's "east data, west computing" project, launched in February, is designed to upgrade the country's digital infrastructure and bridge the digital gap between the eastern provinces and the inland regions in the west. The storage and processing of data in the west of China that is produced in the east is another cross-regional project in China's pursuit of high-quality development through the optimization of resources and the boosting of sustainable development.
Despite China's booming digital economy, there is a wide digital gap between its urban and rural areas. In 2021, China had 297 million rural internet users as compared to 714 million urban netizens. The disparity also extends to different age groups: only 43.2 percent of those aged 60 years and above surf the internet, much lower than the average of 73 percent for all age groups. As for different sectors, the penetration rate of the digital economy in agriculture, industry and the service sector was 8.9 percent, 21 percent and 40.7 percent respectively in 2020.
The four western regions involved in the project－namely the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Gansu and Guizhou provinces, and the Ningxia Hui autonomous region－still need to raise their share of the digital economy in the GDP compared with the eastern and coastal provinces. The implementation of the project will help utilize the abundant renewable energy resources of the western regions, and promote industrial cooperation between the eastern and western regions. It is also beneficial to achieving common prosperity.
The project can help optimize the utilization of resources in China's eastern and western regions. While the shortage of land and energy resources in the eastern regions pose a threat to the sustainable development of local data centers, the country's western regions are rich in both land and energy resources, and have great potential to nurture the development of data centers and meet the needs of data computing in the eastern regions. The project aims to build a national unified computing network by sending data gathered from the more prosperous eastern regions to the less developed western regions for storage, calculation, and feedback, which can optimize the utilization efficiency of computing power and allow western regions to benefit from the development of the digital economy.
The project can also coordinate the development of the computing sector and boost cooperation between the eastern and western regions. The big data industry has a long industrial chain, and attracts large investments. The project will not only drive the development of upstream and downstream industries in the western regions, but also help boost industrial cooperation between the western and eastern regions, thus breaking the geographical restraints in the development of the big data industry and realizing more balanced development of the industry. By channeling more computing resources from the eastern to the western regions, the project will also boost the industrial upgrading and high-quality development of the western regions.
Besides, the project can help unleash the spillover effects of the digital economy and contribute to more balanced development between the western and eastern regions. In the long run, it will help stabilize growth, create more jobs, and improve people's livelihoods. By spawning new industries and business models, it can help create new economic growth engines in the western regions. Moreover, it will help improve the local governance capability and business environment, provide a strong support to public services and social security, and raise the level of digitalization of social services. Also, new knowledge and ideas will flow to the west from the east through the data transfer project and help people in the west enjoy more wealth from shared development.
To better implement the project and promote inclusive development of the digital economy, efforts should be made on several fronts, with the aim of achieving common prosperity.
Primarily, the country should prevent irrational investment in the big data industry through scientific planning and proper supervision. The government should caution enterprises against the risks involved in the project to avoid speculation and homogeneous competition. Only in this way can the data industry grow in an orderly fashion.
Also, cross-regional, cross-sector and cross-departmental coordination should be enhanced to build an institutional environment that helps maximize the value of data as a production element and promotes the free flow of data. A national data governance system that is suitable to a unified computing network should be established, and top-level design needs to be improved to coordinate policies on data security, data standards, data sharing and data pricing across the country.
Besides, the western regions should draw up reasonable plans for industrial transformation and upgrading, and develop the digital economy based on the real economy. Pilot programs of digital transformation in the western regions should be rolled out as soon as possible to guide local governments and avoid wastes of resources in blindly pursuing new industries, models and technologies.
The western regions should also double their efforts to raise the digital literacy of the public and cultivate more talents for the development of the digital economy. Not only high-level industrial and technological talents, but also front-line workers in the digital economy should be nurtured. Governments should formulate talents policies suited to local conditions and train more talents to support the development of the big data industry.
The author is a professor of the School of Economics and Management at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Author: SUN Yi
Source: China Daily