Despite advances, China cannot go it alone in hi-tech world
Technology is globalised and any nation including China will have difficulty becoming self-sufficient; it may be prudent to tone down the boasts
Significant scientific and technological developments are bound to instil a sense of national pride. Hype from some quarters in China about achievements has brought unrealistic beliefs and expectations, though. From the West has come concern about being overtaken, the reason United States President Donald Trump targeted Chinese products with tariffs that took effect earlier this month. But as the chief editor of an influential newspaper recently cautioned, the nation has much catching up to do before it can make grandiose claims.
The remarks by Liu Yadong, whose Science and Technology Daily is under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology, are cause to keep feet grounded. Seemingly reflecting official views, he told a seminar that despite China’s technological achievements, many obstacles had to be overcome before it could pose a serious challenge to more advanced nations. This gap, he believed, should be common knowledge, yet there were those – presumably a jab at the populist media – who had oversold the accomplishments. The nation was subsequently perceived wrongly by outsiders as a tech powerhouse.
There is no doubt that the mainland has made remarkable technological leaps in recent years. The vast high-speed rail network, ability to buy and pay for most goods and services with smartphones and prevalence of facial-recognition systems and electric vehicles make other nations seem backward. An ambitious space programme and impressive developments in quantum computing, aviation and weapons, to name a few, have caught global attention. Developments are reflected in the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation’s latest Global Innovation Index, in which China jumped to 17th place from 22nd last year.
The driving force is the strategic plan to upgrade Chinese industry – Made in China 2025 – with science and technology as the backbone. But mere mention of the tag has become a flag to the West, prompting Chinese officials to tone down their rhetoric. But as President Xi Jinping highlighted in a recent speech to top scientists, external pressures require that China’s key and core technologies be self-developed. The ZTE saga proves that; the tech company faced ruin for violating American sanctions against Iran when, in addition to a huge fine, the US threatened to cut off essential supplies of American-made microchips and software.
Technology is globalised and any nation will have difficulty becoming self-sufficient. China has particular challenges, having a deficit of theoretical scientific knowledge and skills. Great achievements are being made, but internet censorship makes comparisons and scientific exchanges hard. The state-run media has an important role in providing the facts and telling the truth.