Publication: China’s Digital Expansion in the Global South

Heeks, R., Ospina, A., Foster, C., Gao, P.,  Han, X.,  Jepson, N., Schindler, S. & Zhou, Q. Forthcoming 2023. China’s Digital Expansion in the Global South: Systematic Literature Review and Future Research Agenda. The Information Society

[Forthcoming] | CDD Working paper version


At the intersection of China’s growing global presence and growing digital power lies its digital expansion in the low- and middle-income countries of the global South. Worth billions of US$ annually in trade and investment, and having a significant impact on these countries’ social and economic development, this phenomenon has been relatively ignored by research to date. However, it has nonetheless now been sufficiently studied to warrant a systematic literature review, the results of which are reported in this paper. The paper has two aims: to identify what is already known about China’s digital expansion in the global South and, from this, to outline a future research agenda.

After characterising the features, research design and perspectives within current literature, the paper overviews China’s digital expansion. It outlines this expansion’s synergies, tensions, strategies, design and implementation approaches, and evidence about development impact on global South countries. The paper explores two domain-specific issues arising in the literature: whether China is exporting “digital authoritarianism”, and the implications of China’s growing digital presence for digital governance at both global and national levels. The paper ends by laying out a six-part research agenda for future investigation of China’s digital expansion in the global South: more Southern voices, updating the scope of research, moving beyond the “Team China” monolith, steering between Chinese exceptionalism and identicalism, evaluating development impact, and local agency in a “digital Cold War”.