China in Global Digital Trade Governance: Toward a Development-Oriented Negotiation Agenda?



This paper examines China’s role in global digital trade governance by tracing its participation in three sets of global digital trade negotiations – the WTO E-commerce Joint Statement Initiative, the G20-led digital economy development and taxation initiatives, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade agreement. The cases illustrate that China has in principle supported a development-oriented approach to digital trade governance, calling attention to issues such as the digital divide and preserving developing countries’ policy space on data localization in a way that is consistent with its domestic regulatory approaches and commercial interests. Yet China’s growing interests in promoting the global expansion of its tech firms have also led to increasing divergence with other developing countries on issues such as the extension of the e-commerce customs duty moratorium and the cross-border taxation of digital firms, while paradoxically increasing its interest alignment with developed countries. Our case study indicates that China has engaged in strategic engagement within existing governance frameworks and refrained from supporting more fundamental reforms, an approach that has left its interests largely intact.

The paper is co-authored with Dr. Ka Zeng, Distinguished Professor and Director of International and Global Studies (INST), University of Arkansas.

The event will be moderated by Prof Masaru Yarime, associate professor at the Division of Public Policy and Division of Environment and Sustainability, HKUST

This event is jointly organized by HKUST Greater Eurasia Research Center (GEAR) . 

About the speakers and co-authors

Yujia He is an assistant professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, University of Kentucky. She is interested in science and technology policy, international political economy, and economic development in the Asia-Pacific region. Her current and past projects study smart cities and cross-border partnerships, Chinese tech firms’ overseas expansion, the geopolitics and governance issues surrounding emerging technologies, digital trade governance, rare earth trade and governance, and citizen science. Working at the nexus of science and technology and international affairs, she has published in journals such as Third World Quarterly, Information Communication & Society, Financial Innovation, Journal of Urban Affairs, Resources Policy, Georgetown Journal of Asian Affairs, and numerous think tank reports. She conducts fieldwork research across East and Southeast Asia, supported by multiple international collaborative grants. She was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Institute for Emerging Market Studies and the Jockey Club Institute for Advanced Study. She has also held fellowships, visiting or research positions with the United Nations University Institute in Macau, the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program, the University of Chicago Center in Beijing, and the George Washington University Center for International Business Education and Research. More >> 


Ka Zeng is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of International and Global Studies at the University of Arkansas. Her research focuses on China’s role in the global economy, in particular Chinese trade policy, China’s behavior in global economic governance, and China-related trade dispute dynamics. Dr. Zeng is the author or co-author of Trade Threats, Trade Wars (Michigan, 2004), Greening China (Michigan, 2011) and Fragmenting Globalization (Michigan, 2021).  More >> 


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