The Space and Cyberspace Components of the Belt and Road Initiative
This essay examines the space and cyberspace components of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and assesses their role in the expanding scope of BRI as well as in China’s broader efforts to protect its economic and security interests.
Chinese strategists view space and cyberspace as domains that have become critical to economic development as well as to defense and national security objectives. From their point of view, Chinese economic and security interests increasingly extend into space and cyberspace, and these domains are becoming a growing focus of international competition. Consequently, China must enhance its ability to use space and cyberspace to its advantage while preventing an adversary from exploiting any potential Chinese vulnerabilities in these areas. Space systems (and related applications) and information and communications technology (ICT) are also areas in which Chinese officials anticipate considerable demand for investment in many BRI countries. Indeed, China’s proposed Belt and Road Space Information Corridor, which features applications and services related to navigation and positioning, remote sensing, weather, and communications satellites, and the Digital Silk Road, which focuses on the development of communications networks, smart cities, and e-commerce activities, are emerging as important components of BRI. Beijing appears to view the two initiatives as means of expanding its economic and political influence in parts of the world that it sees as increasingly important to its interests.
- BRI projects related to space and cyberspace could increase participating countries’ economic dependence on China in ways that might give Beijing even greater leverage over them.
- Growing reliance on ICT provided by Chinese companies with close ties to China’s military and intelligence services could also exacerbate security risks for recipient countries, including some U.S. allies and partners.
- The U.S. and allies such as Japan and Australia could respond to the space and cyber components of China’s BRI by offering to provide innovative space capabilities, ICT investments, and cybersecurity assistance to key participants as an alternative to reliance on Chinese space systems and communications networks.
Michael S. Chase is a Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation and an Adjunct Professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).