China and the world: Digital developments and challenges

As part of the Lund University’s 350 anniversary we took part in the thematic week digital society with the aim to highlight the multiple and diverse experiences of the Internet worldwide, and in particular in Asia with a special focus on China. It is easy to think that experiences and current debates in Sweden and the US are the norm, something that I found striking in the debate, entitled Will digital destroy or develop democracy?, that I took part in together with Lawrence Lessig, Carl Bildt and Amelia Andersdotter. However, the issues, problems and potentials in many ways look very different in China or Asia more generally than they do in Europe or the US.

It is worth remembering that Asia has the largest Internet population in the world in absolute numbers, and in addition is at the forefront of digital developments in many fields, including governance, entertainment, and e-commerce. But the region also contains a very diverse digital landscape that reflects its different political and socio-economic realities. The average percentage of the population that has access to the Internet in Asia is only 41.9 per cent but as high as 91.1 per cent in Japan. Although only 53 per cent of the Chinese population has access, at 731 million users China is however the world’s largest Internet nation. On 25th April we organized a panel on Local Experiences, Global Challenges, which included presentations on China, India, and Africa. Professor Hu Yong, Peking University, gave the keynote and provided an insightful overview of the internet in China. I myself gave a presentation that provided a broader perspective on human rights and the Internet (available on YouTube.) The next day we devoted a whole day to digital developments in Asia where Stefan Brehm, Annika Pissin, and Tommy Shih gave presentations on their findings from the Digital China project.

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