One of the 12 thematic Sub-Forums at this year’s Belt & Road Forum is on what’s called “Digital Silk Road”.

Senior Officials from eight countries including Cuba, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, shared achievements in digitisation, and said there’s a need for further collaboration with China on areas such as cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things and artificial intelligence (AI).

Officials said such cooperation is expected to merge the virtual economy with the real economy, and make economic growth along the Belt and Road region more inclusive and sustainable.

During the sub-forum, 22 companies signed 10 cooperation agreements

Building a Digital Silk Road has been a frequent topic among government and business leaders. We’ve heard discussions on that in other forums as well, such as the World Internet Conference.

Many are interested in China’s success story on this front: 829 million Internet users, 50 million people working in the Internet sector. According to China’s biggest e-commerce platform Alibaba, that connectivity has yielded results. Online sales volume of goods from Belt and Road countries increased by 120 percent in China last year.

Officials are talking about comprehensive collaborations in not only e-commerce but AI, blockchain and 5G.

Turkey’s Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Mehmet Cahit Turhan said his country has 80 million mobile Internet users, which is already close to the entire population.

Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Minister Abdullah A. Alswaha said the information and communications technology sector in his country will reach 140 billion U.S. dollars by 2020. Both countries are promoting digital cooperation with China.

Other officials talked about the policy side.

Egypt’s Communications and Information Technology Minister Amr Talaat said the country is establishing a high-level commission on e-payments and another one on digital transformation.

The Asian economy of Laos, on the other hand, is making a law on e-commerce to facilitate the fledgling sector in the country.