Worsening global digital divide as the US and China continue zero-sum competitions October 15, 2021 Op-Ed

One of the most urgent tasks for the international community is to overcome growing digital divides. Digital divides in least developed countries (LDCs) have been particularly salient, as digitally disconnected populations have been left further behind during the pandemic. The US and China, two superpowers in the digital era, should work in tandem with the international community to jointly combat digital divides and COVID-19. As the pandemic enters its third year, there has been a striking absence of governmental cooperation between the US and China on COVID-19. Instead, some people in both countries have engaged in a blame game, fought propaganda wars, and promoted conspiracy theories. Geopolitical fault lines are beginning to form, with technology being a central domain of competition and conflict. As former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and distinguished Chinese political scientist Yan Xuetong have respectively noted, there would be a “bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America”, and the US and China would not provide “joint global leadership for the emerging digital world”. Instead, the two countries are shaping what Yan calls “a duopolistic digital world” with two separate and competing centers. These zero-sum competitions are extremely dangerous at a time of unprecedented technological revolution. It’s time for both countries to make common cause to ensure that the digital and increasingly interconnected world is built on a strong foundation of international dialogue, engagement, respect, distributional justice, humanitarianism and a sense of shared destiny.

[Cheng Li is the director of the John L. Thornton China Center and a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings.]