First revealed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, it is anticipated the Belt and Road initiative (B&R) will generate a total economic volume of $21 trillion US dollars (29% of the world’s total) by the time it is completed. The initiative is expected to drive international trade along new routes and create a surge in labour migrations among the 68 countries taking part. This growing movement of goods and people, among countries with national identity systems poses new challenges for identity interoperability.
What is the Belt & Road Initiative?
The B&R is a long-term development strategy for a vast region — stretching from China in the east, across the Indian sub-continent and North Africa, to Europe and the U.K in the west. In all, 68 countries are associated and an investment of $300 trillion is forecast for the project. The aim of the initiative is to increase economic growth and development for the mutual benefit of the participating countries.
Improvements in road connectivity, unimpeded trade, money circulation, policy communication and cultural understanding between Asia, Europe and Africa are the intended outcomes. New channels for the movement of trade, people and money can be expected to drive the development of identity and other tools that will enable the project. Change on such a scale, in such a vast geographical region takes time and it is expected the B&R initiative will not be completed until 2049.
Belt & Road infrastructure
The B&R comprises two routes — the Economic Belt or Silk Road and the Maritime Road or Maritime Silk Road. This is a way of reopening the old silk road.
One of the big B&R infrastructure projects already well underway, is the development of a high-speed rail-freight network from China to Europe. For the B&R initiative to be a success, cooperation between the Asian and European countries is essential.
The rail-freight network enables the flow of goods between China and Europe and is an indication of early success in cooperation on the B&R project. Western firms are especially interested in rail freight as this helps them to lower cost, according to industry expert Ronald Kleijwegt.
High-speed passenger rail will be a valuable addition to the movement of people across the region. Completed smart transport infrastructure will lead to a greater movement of people and goods — and a requirement for advanced IoT identity technology.
Belt & Road Workers
With growth and opportunities in the B&R region, business and trade are not the only things to be affected. An increase in the movement of people across the region for work and trade will lead to new patterns of economic migration. Migrant workers and entrepreneurs will bring with them diverse backgrounds in terms of their language, identity, socio-economic status.
Such diversity and an increased movement of people will necessitate new levels of security in terms of identity. There are 4.5 billion people living in B&R associated countries, representing a large labour force reserve. Labour migration was already above 80% for some countries within the region.
In China alone, there is a total emigration population of 35 million, which is a major source of migrants to the entire world. In the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Russia and Kazakhstan are the main receiving countries while Central Asian countries (aside from Kazakhstan) are sending countries.
Major infrastructure projects and associated trade will drive a demand for experts, and labour shortages will propel a potential increase in labour migration. Employers and companies involved in infrastructure construction or trade will need to transact and onboard quickly.
To hasten the signing up and onboarding of new workers, digital identity and onboarding need to be revolutionized. The secure management of international identities is a basic requirement for this initiative. Within the B&R region, people need to be able to secure and control their personal records and have easier and faster access to opportunities.
The Belt & Road identity challenge
The new infrastructure and movement of people in the B&R region will either be facilitated or impeded by access technologies. That’s why it’s important that identity solutions used in the region are interoperable.
Europe’s GDPR and strong South Korean data protection laws bookend data protection for the region. In addition, 41 major languages add to identity portability and localization challenges. The initiative’s drive for innovation and integration presents an opportunity for identity solution leapfrogging — specifically for personal and IoT identity.