The Science of Where Magazine meets Yaroslav Lissovolik, Head of Research with SBERCIB
Can you explain to our readers the thesis of your article A digital platform for Eurasia (World Economic Forum)?
The idea is relatively simple — to look at Eurasia as a platform for digital cooperation across several key trajectories: coordination among Eurasia’s regional integration arrangements (EU, Eurasian Economic Union, EFTA, RCEP, ASEAN, etc) in the sphere of greater inter-operability of the respective regional digital platforms; cooperation among regional development banks (European Investment Bank (EIB), Eurasian Development Bank (EDB), Asian Development Bank (ADB)) that targets projects involving cross-country digital cooperation; a platform for regional financing arrangements in Eurasia that coordinate anti-crisis policies and contingency measures based on digital cooperation and data exchange. These three platforms could reinforce one another and be further complemented by country-level and corporate-level platforms to form a Eurasian ecosystem of digital cooperation and inter-operability. A crucial element of such a platform could be an aggregation of the network of digital economic agreements (DEAs) that have emerged since 2020 as a key gateway to forging alliances across countries and regions in the digital sphere.
Why can Eurasia be an important laboratory on the issues of digital transformation at a global level?
Firstly, there is the abundance of human capital — not just in terms of quantity (more than 5 billion people accounting for 70% of the world’s population), but also in terms of quality as the region generates the largest amount of data that can be effectively processed by some of the most advanced digital platforms in the world. Another dimension — Eurasia is by a significant margin leading the world in terms of the share of e-commerce — nearly 80% of the total. And then there is also the leadership of Eurasian economies in various areas pertaining to the digital transformation of the global economy. At the country level Singapore is the global leader in concluding digital economic agreements (DEAs). At the regional level the European Union is the global leader in terms of regional integration and cross-country/regional digital cooperation. In the corporate world China is actively advancing its corporate platforms in the global economy such as Tencent and Ant Group. The vastness of Eurasia and its unique diversity is both a challenge and an opportunity for developing digital cooperation across countries whether in terms of e-commerce or intra-continental connectivity.
Digital transformation, which many experts define a revolution, is an integral part of many recovery plans in various countries around the world. What is, in your opinion, the geostrategic impact of this transformation?
Clearly, the current pandemic coupled with the effects of the economic downturn massively boosted demand for digital technological development. Leadership in the technological/digital race becomes all the more critical and more of the anti-crisis packages of the countries across the globe target the development of the digital economy. This was particularly the case with China prioritizing the development of its 5G network in response to the crisis as well as Russia prioritizing its economic stimulus to sectors such as IT-technologies. The technological race between the US and China becomes one of the key trajectories for the future of global digital transformation — either it degenerates into a spiral tit-for-tat protectionism and restrictions or it becomes a source of creative competition that may also redound to other economies of the globe. My sense is that in the post-Covid world China is likely to emerge more competitive and more advanced in the digital sphere given the scale of its support for digital transformation (also observed in the sizable increments in R&D financing) as well as the creation of large-scale alliances targeting the development of digital economic cooperation. One such platform for digital cooperation co-sponsored by China is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — the largest free-trade arrangement in the world that also contains important provisions governing the development of digital economic cooperation.
The idea of an alliance between liberal democracies that should challenge the so-called undemocratic regimes (in particular, Russia and China) seems to be increasingly affirmed at a global level. Is this challenge real? If so, how much does the technological factor (clearly connected to large investments) “weight” on it?
There may be multiple linkages/connection lines and opportunities for cooperation in the digital sphere and there may also be division lines. The latter may involve differences in ethical standards in the digital sphere, including differences in how personal digital data is used and processed as well as variations in the scale of «digital surveillance» and «social scoring». Another possible line of division is the formation of exclusive clubs/alliances in the digital sphere that do not follow the principles of openness and inclusiveness. There are various initiatives targeting the creation of clubs and alliances that are centered on a certain «value code». The real challenge is to avoid confronting other countries or regions but rather to boost multilateral cooperation — multilateral institutions such as regional development banks, regional financing arrangements, global institutions (World Bank, WTO) have a tremendous role to play in this area. There may be a case for the creation of a new global multilateral organization that would seek to boost cross-country cooperation in the technological/digital sphere. Another alternative would be to form a global platform for digital cooperation on the basis of regional arrangements and institutions. Such platforms in the sphere of policy coordination and migration across regional development institutions have already been launched by the IMF and the World Bank.
Last question. How do you see the world in the next ten years ?
I see a world that is still struggling to learn from past mistakes, a world that is yet to embrace the simple ideas of cooperation during adversity. There is hope nonetheless that through incremental improvements and small steps the world will be transformed for the better — for example through greater cooperation on environmental issues — indeed, this is one of the few areas where there appears to be broad consensus across the largest countries/constituencies. Environmental issues inherently defy boundaries and call for greater cross-country coordination — the hope is that these opportunities will lead us to a «green reset» in international relations, as the environmental agenda creates new communication lines for global diplomacy.