Following the recent ban on Huawei products by U.S. president Donald Trump, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping has stated that China is ready to pursue future technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and 5G Internet through cooperation with other nations. Speaking in a letter addressed to the China International Big Data Expo holding in Guiyang, Guizhou Province in Southwestern China, Xi said that China intends to deepen cooperation in these fields as part of an effort to collectively move humanity forward.
Xi’s comments clearly allude to a desire to skirt what China sees as obstructionist U.S. policy by engaging other partners around the world, including U.S. allies to key into its vision for the future, particularly through its world-leading 5G infrastructure. Already, there has been a noticeable split between the U.S. and some of its allies on this very question, with Germany for example maintaining its partnership with Huawei even as American sanctions have locked the country out of the U.S. and briefly compromised its partnership with Google’s Android OS.
China’s Huawei Problem
While Huawei’s problems with Donald Trump’s administration have been well publicized, what often goes unreported is that a number of other Chinese entities linked to the Chinese government have also been put on notice or restricted from doing business in the U.S. This poses a problem for Chinese tech ambitions as the U.S. still houses the most powerful tech businesses and consumer base in the world. The temporary loss of Android support for Huawei for example, demonstrated how exposed Chinese technology still is to the vagaries of American foreign policy, and this is something that Xi is keen to address.
In his letter to the event, Xi stated that when taking in to account the sheer projected impact of these technologies on social progress and economic development of countries all over the world, it is imperative that they all cooperate and carry out knowledge exchange to properly grasp and harness the opportunities provided. Reading between the lines, what he stopped short of saying when speaking about the need for general cooperation was “so that the U.S. will no longer be able to torpedo Chinese tech.”
Belt & Road Initiative And Chinese Tech
China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a major infrastructure-building effort spanning Asia, Africa and Europe is central to China’s ambitions for global domination, as it continues its inexorable march toward becoming the world’s biggest economy. Future technology like 5G will play a key part in the actualisation of this blueprint, so it is in China’s interests to win the tech race and secure a leadership position ahead of the U.S.
The promise held by widespread Internet of Things deployment for example, can only be achieved through 5G internet penetration. Unsurprisingly Huawei is building out most of the 5G infrastructure on all three continents in the BRI region. Typically, Xi is very careful to avoid describing the BRI or China’s ambitions using the language of conquest or domination. He instead prefers to use terms like “community” and “common development,” as illustrated by a quote from his letter:
By exploring new technologies, new formats and new models, we will jointly explore new growth kinetics and development paths. I hope that delegates and guests will discuss the development and cooperation of the big data industry on the theme of “innovation and development, and the future of the number”, and contribute to the common development of all countries and the building of a community of human destiny.
Ultimately however, whether China’s huge tech ambitions will achieve fruition will come down to market vagaries that even Trump and Xi cannot control.