China is establishing itself as the new industry standard bringing its rivalry with the U.S to a political deadlock
Image credit: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
As the tech war between the U.S and China escalates, the growing rift between the two countries is posing a threat to tech neutrality. This ‘new cold war’ has quickly donned political colours as China’s tremendous growth challenges the western model of the technological industry standard.
It started with China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that is expanding beyond its borders. China has managed to tap into the right places as Yang Guang, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, commented, “it is just that foreigners didn’t pay attention before.”
In light of recent events, this became glaringly apparent when Zhao Houlin, head of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) an impartial body of the UN praised the BRI. He also defended Huawei against the U.S accusations of espionage.
This brings to light the new cold war- a power struggle between China and the US on emerging technology. The rivalry is intense in both the telecom sector and associated areas of technology- AI, facial recognition, biometrics, to name a few.
The 5G cellular telecom, for instance, plays an integral part in driving home the fact, China will not leave without emerging as the winner.
China’s Gradual Rise in a Technological Void
There is a lack of a U.S countermeasure to challenge China’s ambitious rise as a global superpower. It was a slow climb that began in 2008.
Beijing managed to secure a permanent seat at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). In 2013, it went on to become a permanent member of the ISO Technical Management Board. The first Chinese President, Zhang Xiaogang was chosen in 2015.
The same happened at the International Electromechanical Commission (IEC) with the election of Shu Yinbiao in early 2019. Mr. Zhao, head of the ITU is the latest Chinese addition, expected to continue his tenure till 2023.
China now holds strategic positions that give it an edge over its rival in the new industry standard. It’s leveraging BRI as a means of shaping infrastructure from the ground up for multiple countries. Beijing calls this export of technology, the digital silk road.
China under its Belt and Road Initiative, is building smart and safe cities around the globe. Smart cities have AI, facial recognition systems, big data, and 5G communication which helps each municipality cope with modern problems.
The lure of having an automated city to deal with waste and traffic can be too irresistible, especially when it can also help you keep tabs on residents. As the partner country enters into a deal, they also end up opting for the Chinese technology standard.
China is working up its way from the roots through deals and negotiations with other countries. Once a country settles on building a Smart City with Chinese help, it gets costly to switch to another system. This disadvantage gives China the upper hand, as the U.S is yet to come up with a checkmate move.
This high-powered drive is led by China’s President, Xi Jinping himself. As Daryl Seaman, the CIO of Sphere (a security software) revealed, “China’s increased representation has already helped it get the green light for 5 industry standards out of the 11 it had proposed within the ISO framework.”
Seaman also expressed concern over the potential threat of digital surveillance that increases with the mushrooming of Chinese technology.
The U.S. is actively critiquing China as its digital BRI is plowing through countries wanting to adopt a digital framework for their cities. Every EU and NATO member as is Serbia, Austria, and Italy is a part of the Belt and Road Initiative.
It might not seem like much on paper, but it facilitates bilateral development. The pandemic and the negligence of the EU further helped tighten these bonds. It also puts Europe in a vulnerable position being caught in a crossfire between a nontransparent, (Chinese) data handling and the U.S. determination to detach itself from Chinese technology.
The Civil and Military Implications
The U.S. is bristling at China’s approach towards growth (in this case dominance as well) which is antithetical to the democratic values and respect for human rights of liberal countries around the world.
So what’s happening with the U.S.? According to a member of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee, “the last 10 to 15 years leadership has eroded (in the U.S.).” The weakened state of affairs is giving the Communist Party an edge over the U.S giving China the leeway to design a technological model of governance.
With the lack of a proactive stance of the non-authoritarian half, China will continue to grow and put the smaller nations, who are functioning democracies, at risk. It will lead to the formation of two impermeable industrial blocs that furthers this technological cold war.
What is the United States Stance on Recent Developments?
The Western block might not have a model ready, but they are investigating how the Chinese are operating its system.
RWR Advisory group, Washington monitors the BRI. According to them, the Chinese have made 116 deals for installing smart cities and more than 50 percent are under the BRI.
Data breach and cybersecurity is a prime concern for these smart cities. The technology might be subject to Chinese laws that compromise its security. Mr. Zhao declined to comment on the possible data breach.
The 2019 China Standardization Report is crystal clear on China’s intention to propagate its industry-standard through its Belts and Roads Initiative. Simply put, China is chasing clout and trying to sign more multilateral political agreements with the same countries it has bilateral agreements with.
What Does the Future of this Tech War Look Like?
China’s technology standard 2035 is supposed to be released by the end of 2020 and it’s expected to reveal China’s plans for next-generation tech. This is also supposed to focus on the military-civil fusion. Strategic communities not aligned with China are concerned about future implications.
China is leading this race so far, with one of the five approved proposals being on Global Energy Interconnection. Under this concept, high voltage power cables will run between countries, connecting them. If this gets set in motion, there is no stopping China from holding an influential position on global industrial standards.
- From AI to facial recognition: how China is setting the rules in new tech – https://on.ft.com/3lkNVU3