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China’s Emergence As A Tech Power

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It is common knowledge that we live in a highly connected, globalised world. In the third decade of the 21st Century, globalisation has been accelerated by advanced communication technology so much so that events in one region of the world influence happenings in another region almost immediately. Bilateral relations, multilateral arrangements, economic sanctions, protectionist policies, and diplomacy are all reliant on the forces of advanced technology.

Dr Simi Mehta, the CEO and Editorial Director of IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, the moderator of this talk, initiated the discussion by contextualising the role of developing states such as China in the reformation of global governance structures. Dr Mehta added that the role of non-state actors in this reformation of governance structures and policy development required concerted understanding. She highlighted the need to engage with scholars and experts who are well-versed in the field, indicating that this talk was a step in that direction.

Copy of State of international relations

Examining The Validity Of China’s Tech Prowess 

Dr G Venkat Raman, Associate Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Management, Indore, and speaker of this talk, opened this discussion by examining how there are valid arguments for both validating and denying China as a technology superpower. With what Dr Raman referred to as a latecomer’s advantage, China entered the ‘Age of Implementation’ as opposed to the previous century’s age of discovery.

With the biggest cluster of AI scientists and the largest number of internet users at 800 million, China is arguably leagues ahead of the rest of the world. Chang ‘E-4, China’s spacecraft landing was done on the far side of the moon. Landing in this part of the moon to obtain data requires a pre-positioned relay satellite that could achieve success. China became the first country to achieve this feat. The prominent positions of Chinese Tech Companies on Global Supply Chains and the indigenisation of nuclear plants and high-speed trains further validate these claims.

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Representational Image. China is Emerging as a Tech Power 

On the other hand, sceptics argue that China’s dependence on the imports of semiconductors, and the fact that only 22% of Chinese companies hold the market capital of digital platforms do not support these claims. Furthermore, China’s tendency to cut itself off from the wider world where technological developments are concerned and the strong edge the US and EU have over China’s 5G tech and Qualcomm computing further disprove this claim.

That said, the valid indicators of China’s tech prowess outweigh the scepticism. Dr Raman shines a light on how China’s massive domestic market allows it to occupy a pole position on Global Supply Chains. The national industrial policy favours funding large Chinese tech firms while placing higher taxes on foreign investments in China. Despite the authoritarian and regulated policies, innovative flexibility and generous grants foster a culture of innovation.

China is building a completely self-reliant technology industry in an attempt to further cut trade ties internationally. According to the 3rd pillar of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure development plan in nearly 70 countries, investments to develop 5G networks and undersea cables have been boosted.

Because there is no western involvement, the possibility of an increase in data monitoring is seen as a threat by many. With this massive reconfiguration of supply chains, China has become the largest producer of chips in recent years. Dr Raman elaborates on how Global Tech Value Chains have seen a major realignment as Chinese companies have begun to insulate themselves to avoid potential and actual pressures from American players.

The International Tech Regime

Quoting Werner Von Siemens the, 19th-century German Industrialist and Innovator, “one who owns the standards owns the market,” Dr Raman draws parallels to China’s geopolitical tactics to manipulate tech markets. This goes on to prove that the standards are no longer set by the West. Surely not when Chinese firms are all set to export 5G and advanced AI tech to about a hundred countries.

This has allowed China to have a larger say in international bodies under the UN that regulate technological exchanges, and other standard-setting bodies such as the International Telecom Union through which it enhances interest in its tech firms. The current chairperson of the International Telecom Union is Zhao Houlin, a Chinese official elected for the second term in Jan 2019.

China has been using this growing monopoly over technology to influence governance as well. Its growing technology prowess influences the framing of the newly emerging technology regime and in the process influencing global governance outcomes. One Connect, a Chinese financial cloud service, has been successful in rewelding pipelines channelling money into developing countries in Africa and Asia. “It is kind of like waging a proxy battle against US giants,” Dr Venkat Raman states.

China has launched CIPS, an interbank messaging system that will allow the easing of international payments in the Yuan. “Alibaba and Tencent have already built a parallel banking system,” Dr Raman adds. ALIPAY, a digital wallet service, already in use in 56 countries, tactically has bought minority stakes in the wallets of 9 Asian jurisdictions, allowing it to influence the industry while also avoiding paying for licenses.

In the post-covid era, large technology firms are playing an increasingly important role as allies in foreign policy formulation. Western tech firms are also looking at the Chinese model for inspiration where the state plays an important role in funding, to compete with Chinese giants. This has massive ramifications for the realignment of state-business relations.

By their shrewd use of Intellectual Property rights and other efforts made to prevent foreign dominance of technology in areas of key significance, China has built a monopoly in the field. The State’s efforts have greatly harmed American and other Western interests in the high-tech field. The way the trends are moving, we are looking at a certain kind of balkanization of the internet, Dr Raman remarks.

With the number of Chinese apps in international digital markets that could potentially relay back tons of personal data, there is increasing competition for digital real estate. The Internet of Things is emerging as an area of technological control, wherein the more stakes one holds in global IoT, the more geopolitical advantage they have.

Black-box AI algorithms are another area of concern. These are systems that generate results with accuracy but mysterious reasoning, which many scholars think could be used for racial profiling. “One is thinking of a world where human rights could be significantly compromised.” especially as China shares this technology, “there is a threat to liberal values,” Dr Raman warns. With the increase in the possibility of this ‘Weaponized Interdependence,’ the USA has retaliated with a series of sanctions, threatening trade partners to change trade policies with China and delisting Chinese firms.

google search on a phone or tablet
Representational Image. China’s control of cyberspace could be a looming threat.

 

Although strong arguments have been made for the solidity of China’s tech prowess, experts in the field have identified certain disadvantages to the existing robust system built by the state. The top-down state-led efforts in developing robotics, quantum computing, and AI may fail after a certain point if no efforts to allow bottom-up efforts are made. The stifling of bottom-up efforts of innovation may lead to the system’s eventual decline. Chinese tech companies may face economic and political pressures as they globalise with the Western competition. Furthermore, if the US re-energises its digital diplomacy tactics, China will be at a disadvantage.

While disadvantages are discussed, it is equally important to discuss possible threats that the world will face with China’s growing status as a cyber superpower. Experts are certain that a digital divide that has already been created will only grow in international cyberspace. Moreover, Beijing will reap diplomatic and intelligence-related benefits that once flowed to Washington DC, at a higher risk to national security. The cost and complexity of doing business in China for foreign investors will increase highly, and experts believe Intellectual Property Rights violations will increase manyfold. Dr Raman concluded by stating that rival spheres of influence will only grow more hostile.

The geo-epistemological advantage of tech companies is tremendous for China’s chip production. The state-led development initiatives’ drive to export transportation technology and nuclear technology will come at a high cost. “Other countries may begin to take a leaf out of China’s book to push for state-led innovation and to what extent liberal values will be contested is something we will have to look out for,” Dr Raman noted.

The Digital Global Order

Mr Kazim Rizvi, Founding Director of The Dialogue, joined to note that as China has been building a very strong firewall of data, the state has been preparing for the digital revolution wherein data and digital power will dictate the new digital global order. “China has been very focused on making sure that it has all the right amount of data and a very strong cybersecurity ecosystem,” Mr Rizvi remarked. India has joined the bloc of the west with the US and the EU, where the Rule of Law and democratic values are supposedly honoured, while on the other hand, China remains opaque in its functioning, especially with the amount of harvested data it possesses.

For these reasons, the western bloc has been preventing the use of Chinese 5G hardware systems for national security concerns. “The development of domestic 5G hardware is critical for India to prevent any challenges and threats which can emerge from China,” said Mr Rizvi. Referring to the banning of Chinese apps in the Indian digital market, Mr Rizvi adds that the government has taken a correct move from a strategic point of view, to prevent the possible mining of Indian data to Chinese firms.

In addition to building robust cybersecurity infrastructures, such as cutting-edge encryption and firewall mechanisms, India needs to develop a strong cybersecurity policy and must collaborate with the Quad, and the western bloc, Mr Rizvi opines. “Developing mechanisms where the intelligence of India, US, UK, EU, etc can work together to counter Chinese threats, and developing stringent policies to safeguard cybersecurity along with preventing technological pushes from China to protect national interests,” Mr Rizvi concludes, are steps in the right direction.

Mr Amit Dubey, Founder of the India Future Foundation, and National Cybersecurity expert observed that China has begun to be known for softer innovations and developing strong technology sectors only in the past 10-15 years. Investment and innovation in high-tech fields have exceeded over 1 Trillion USD, which is a matter of grave concern for the rest of the world. “We can also learn from China, as some of our weaknesses are similar to China’s,” Mr Dubey noted. “If we do not take the opportunity to focus on our strengths, we will lag much like the US is.

India is still regarded as a labour country, but it needs to build its innovation and tech sectors. However, India’s biotechnology efforts to develop Indian vaccines in the same duration as western firms have created a great impression globally. But India’s lagging AI sector, cybersecurity, and other technologies are holding us back, and the inability to develop these fields will only allow digital and cybersecurity threats to growing, Mr Dubey concludes.

Referring to the ownership patterns of Chinese technology firms, Professor Ritu Agarwal, Associate Professor at the Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, highlighted that state-controlled and state-funded systems are unique to China’s tech sector. China’s advantage is reliant on policies that dissuade foreign tech presence in China, according to which state-directed panels oversee developments and require sharing of innovations and research. “These restrictions have created a niche area for China to become a technological superpower.

Prof Agarwal notes. “The idea is that most of the innovations and inventions that China has developed over the years are through the kind of technologies that they have appropriated from foreign firms and other countries,” or even through student fellowships that they generously grant, Professor Agarwal adds. She argues that the innovative capabilities of China are not as strong as they seem when one considers the similarities between Chinese telecommunications and other technologies with already existing ones, such as Korean smartphone technologies.

What is unique, however, is the state-sponsored upscaling of the innovation market. China’s inability to follow rules and regulations in the international sphere contradicts the Chinese Communist Party’s aspiration to dominate the global tech market. These need to be aligned to be taken seriously as a global player, Professor Agarwal states.

Ms Ambika Vishwanath, Co-founder and Director of Kubernein Initiative, posed questions on the futures of countries like Japan and South Korea in the emerging digital divide from larger geopolitical perspectives.

Dr Raman brought the discussion to an end by highlighting the importance of looking at how China views the world. He adds that while Chinese policies are criticised, American actions are overlooked or forgotten. The advantage of China’s opaqueness in policy formulation and action is also their biggest threat, Dr Venkat Raman concluded. Dr Simi Mehta thanked all the participants and concluded the insightful discussion with a vote of thanks.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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