China applies to join DEPA in boost for global digital trade
Move to boost global digital trade, help Chinese firms tap overseas markets
Published: Oct 31, 2021 07:43 PM
A concept photo of digital economy Photo: VCG

A concept photo of digital economy Photo: VCG

China has applied to join the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA), an international agreement that establishes approaches and collaboration in digital trade issues, a move that experts say could help Chinese digital companies tap overseas markets more easily as they face increasing crackdowns from certain countries, particularly the US, by seeking to establish a globally recognized cooperative mechanism for cross-border digital trade. 

Addressing the first session of the 16th Group of 20 (G20) Leaders' Summit on Saturday via video link, President Xi Jinping said that "China attaches great importance to international cooperation on digital economy, and has decided to apply to join the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement. China stands ready to work with all parties for the healthy and orderly development of digital economy," according to the Xinhua News Agency.

The DEPA is an agreement signed by Singapore, Chile and New Zealand in June 2020 that is aimed at facilitating economic engagement and trade in the digital era. It also contains a number of provisions that enable trusted data flows, such as developing mechanisms to protect personal data being transferred across borders.

Independent technology analyst Liu Dingding said that China's move to join global digital agreements shows China's responsibility in bridging digital gaps, as the country, with its sound development of online industries in recent years, has a lot to offer to other countries, whether in terms of technologies or products. 

"By joining such agreements, countries could learn from each other's digital experience and share their benefits, while interacting with each other's markets in a more profound manner," Liu told the Global Times.

Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia Research Institute, said that China's digital development has led the world in recent years, but the lack of an internationally recognized legal framework for digital trade has led to much friction for relevant businesses, including attempts by the US government to crack down on the operations of some Chinese internet firms, like TikTok, in their country. 

"At a time when trade is increasingly turning digitalized, it's an urgent task for countries to work out a unified set of rules under which such trade can be carried out smoothly," Zhang told the Global Times on Sunday, adding that China's membership in the DEPA would accelerate Chinese companies' digital business layout. 

Despite their differences, Liu also stressed, China and the US also have a lot of interaction and common ground in their online industries. Microsoft, for example, has developed its cloud business very well in China, and global cooperative agreements could provide a basis for China and the US to seek more cooperation instead of picking on each other's faults, according to Liu.

China's decision to apply for membership at the DEPA comes as the country is tightening regulations on internet platforms that handle large volumes of personal data, aiming to target monopolies and other illegal activities that harm consumers' rights and interests.

According to draft guidelines rolled out by the Cyberspace Administration of China on Friday, companies with more than 1 million users in the country must apply for a security review before they can send user-related data abroad. Companies were also told to carry out an internal risk assessment, covering such issues as the legitimacy and necessity of their moves, before sending data abroad. 

The guidelines represent the latest effort by regulators to tighten regulations on Chinese companies that have vast troves of personal data. In July, Chinese regulators noted that any company with data for more than 1 million users must undergo a security review before seeking overseas listings, shortly after China's widely used ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing was removed from app stores over alleged data violations. 

According to Zhang, joining international digital treaties and agreements does not conflict with China's management of data security.

"The premise of international digital regulations is that they should respect each member country's internal regulations and laws. If there's clash between the two, then there should be future negotiations to find common views," he said.