Can Beijing promote building tech power despite crackdown?

By Wen Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2020/5/31 19:50:02

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

China's leaders are blowing the horn by encouraging scientific and technological workers across the country to make new and greater efforts and contributions to build China into a global technology and innovation power. The call is resonating well with Chinese scientists and the younger generations studying in universities. 

It is anticipated that trillions will be spent by the state-run enterprises and institutions as well as private firms in the coming 10 years to make this juggernaut economy primarily driven by top-caliber technologies. 

The urge from Beijing sends a clear signal that, in key and core technology supplies, China cannot and must not rely on imports, because some leading items of technology, such as semiconductor chips, cannot be bought. 

The current Trump government's trade war against China and its relentless assault on 5G equipment maker Huawei Technologies and a host of other Chinese high-tech companies in AI, robotics and quantum computing, by blacklisting them and cutting off crucial component supplies, has taught this country a good lesson.

It's high time to scramble up China's own indigenous innovations.

There are solid and persuasive instances of technology's predominating role in our everyday life. Looking into China's success in bringing the COVID-19 outbreak under control and reopening the economy, in addition to strict lockdown and social distancing measures, people's digital health code system based on the mobile internet, and ubiquitous thermal cameras to detect passengers' temperatures placed at entrances of train stations, subways, airports, schools and work units, are proof of tech prowess. 

Another example is the DF 21D and DF 16 anti-ship ballistic missiles which reportedly have contributed to a quick and major change in US naval deployment strategy in the West Pacific Ocean. Other new defense technologies include the mobile, long-range and multi-warhead DF 41 strategic missiles, JL-2 strategic nuclear submarines and hypersonic electromagnetic pulse launchers, which have become the bedrock of national security. 

Thanks to vigorous investments in the previous 20 years, China has advanced significantly in many technologies, including ultrafast mobile broadband, e-commerce, digital payment, satellites and space exploration, high-speed rail and subway systems, and renewable clean energies including solar power, wind turbines, nuclear reactors, and electric vehicle development.

It is these technological breakthroughs that help lay the foundations of the country's leapfrogging economic progress. 

But out of envy and a grudge, the Trump administration just cannot bear China's incessant ascent, which has resorted to trade protectionism and techno-nationalism to terminate technology supplies to leading Chinese companies. 

Recently, the administration went too far to ban non-American semiconductor makers to sell chips to Huawei in its wicked attempt to kill the global 5G front-runner. The whole country and even the world are dumbfounded by Washington's wanton efforts to clamp down on technology advances. 

So, China has got a problem because the country has trusted the globalized trade regime and intertwined supply chains, wishfully thinking that all foreign technology products - specifically advanced wafer chips - could be purchased. The US technology blockage on Huawei and other Chinese firms is pouring a bucket of cool water on Chinese people. 

From now on, this country will acknowledge that core technologies must be explored, developed and stored at home. Domestic companies like Tsinghua Unigroup and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) must spruce up their technology apparatus in making the world-class chips. 

And, private companies like Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi and Baidu should make their contributions. 

In retrospect of the past experiences, China's central government needs to set up a multi-department coordination group - consisting of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and China's Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Education - to examine global technology development trends, to propose better legislation to protect IPRs, and to oversee the country's comprehensive indigenous technology researching efforts. 

If China had such a group before, the country's "shortages of semiconductor manufacturing and crucial software writing ability" would be discovered many years earlier, and more resources would have been put into those sectors.  

Now that China has put the COVID-19 epidemic under firm control, China's central government has set two "new investment spectrums" to help accelerate economic growth - new infrastructure studded with a good number of high-tech projects, and new urban facelift spending aimed to propel rapid urbanization. The investment plan, coupled with about 50 economic and technological development zones scattered in major Chinese cities, is imperative for the country's homegrown technological advances. 

The author is an editor with the Global Times.


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