The Beijing Effect: China's 'Digital Silk Road' as Transnational Data Governance

92 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2021 Last revised: 6 Feb 2022

See all articles by Matthew S. Erie

Matthew S. Erie

University of Oxford; University of Oxford - Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

Thomas Streinz

NYU School of Law - Guarini Global Law & Tech

Date Written: February 3, 2022


China shapes transnational data governance by supplying digital infrastructure to emerging markets. The prevailing explanation for this phenomenon is “digital authoritarianism” by which China exports not only its technology but also its values and governance system to host states. Contrary to the one-size-fits-all digital authoritarianism thesis, this Article theorizes a “Beijing Effect,” a combination of “push” and “pull” factors that explains China’s growing influence in data governance beyond its borders. Governments in emerging economies demand Chinese-built digital infrastructures and emulate China’s approach to data governance in pursuit of “data sovereignty” and digital development. China’s “Digital Silk Road,” a massive effort to build the physical components of digital infrastructure (e.g., fiber-optic cables, antennas, and data centers), to enhance the interoperability of digital ecosystems in such developing states materializes the Beijing Effect. Its main drivers are Chinese technology companies that increasingly provide telecommunication and e-commerce services across the globe. The Beijing Effect contrasts with the “Brussels Effect” whereby companies’ global operations gravitate towards the EU’s regulations. It also deviates from US efforts to shape global data governance through instruments of international economic law. Based on a study of normative documents and empirical fieldwork conducted in a key host state over a four-year period, we explain how the Beijing Effect works in practice and assess its impact on developing countries. We argue that “data sovereignty” is illusory as the Chinese party-state retains varying degrees of control over Chinese enterprises that supply digital infrastructure and urge development of legal infrastructures commensurate with digital development strategies.

Keywords: data governance, regulatory competition, digital infrastructure, Chinese tech companies, data sovereignty, digital development, transnational governance, Brussels Effect

JEL Classification: K20, K33, O33, P33, P37

Suggested Citation

Erie, Matthew Steven and Streinz, Thomas, The Beijing Effect: China's 'Digital Silk Road' as Transnational Data Governance (February 3, 2022). 54 N.Y.U. J. Int’l L. & Pol. 1 (2021), Available at SSRN:

Matthew Steven Erie (Contact Author)

University of Oxford ( email )

Dickson Poon Building
Canterbury Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX2 6LU
United Kingdom


University of Oxford - Centre for Socio-Legal Studies ( email )

Wellington Square
Oxford, OX1 2JD
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://

Thomas Streinz

NYU School of Law - Guarini Global Law & Tech ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States


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