The emergence of digital platforms is shifting the digital economy toward a “platform economy”, and Chinese platform-based businesses like Alibaba, Tencent, JD are increasingly expanding in the Global South. Alongside this, the Chinese government has been promoting digital economy collaboration with other emerging markets through high-level engagement under the banner of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its digital economy component the “Digital Silk Road” (DSR). Despite significant market interest and policy attention, grounded empirical analysis of Chinese digital platforms’ expansion within Belt and Road Initiative countries is scarce. This study employs a mixed-method approach, drawing on both quantitative data of Chinese platform companies’ overseas foreign direct investment and qualitative data obtained from fieldwork interviews in Southeast Asia and from secondary sources that focus on a case study of Chinese platforms in Indonesia. It finds that Chinese digital platforms largely conducted their overseas expansion based on commercial interests, and BRI as Beijing’s high-level policy framework has had a limited direct impact on the expansion of the privately-owned Chinese platforms and their local business operations within host countries. The vagueness of BRI/DSR has also allowed platform companies investing in Indonesia to choose how to engage with Chinese BRI/DSR rhetoric depending on the local context. Furthermore, local contextual factors, including Indonesian policy, policy implementation, and labor market, have shaped the platforms’ business expansion. Firms have been pushed to adapt to local policy priorities and socioeconomic context, seek local partners and invest in local capacity building. The findings suggest a more complicated state-firm relationship in Chinese digital platforms’ expansion than that which is often perceived, and the importance of host country contexts in shaping Chinese digital platforms’ local business strategies.
About the Speaker
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 projects study smart city innovations and cross-border partnerships, Chinese tech firms’ overseas expansion, digital trade governance, the geopolitics of emerging technologies, rising powers in global economic governance, and technology and the future of work. Past work has also covered rare earth trade and governance, artificial intelligence policy, and citizen science. Her work has appeared in leading journals such as Third World Quarterly, Information Communication & Society, Financial Innovation, 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 has also held fellowships, visiting or research positions with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Institute for Emerging Market Studies (IEMS) and Jockey Club Institute for Advanced Study, the United Nations University in Macau, the Atlantic Council Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program, the University of Chicago Center in Beijing, the George Washington University Center for International Business Education and Research, and the Sam Nunn Security Program. She obtained her PhD in International Affairs, Science and Technology (IAST) and MS in International Affairs from Georgia Tech, and BS in Chemistry from Peking University, and Stanford China Program certificate.