China’s state policy: shape global tech standards to increase influence and enhance global reputation

In line with China President  Xi Jinping‘s goal of making the country a ‘major power with pioneering global influence’ by 2049, China has been leveraging its technological prowess and geopolitical heft to shape the global technological environment and standards to serve its commercial and strategic interests, a media report said.

China has adopted a state-directed strategy to influence international standards setting, and use them as a foreign policy tool to enhance its global standing, the Times of Israel reported, adding that, the Xi administration has employed a dual-track approach to set the international technological standards.

On the one hand, it seeks to influence both the multilateral (governmental) and the multi-stakeholder technical Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) by placing Chinese nationals in senior leadership positions (like in 3GPP and ITU-R WP5D)  and larger representation of Chinese tech companies (the three China state owned network providers, Huawei, ZTE and smaller players like Nufront with its own 5G RIT spec), and other Chinese companies, with guidance from the Party-State (CCP), are creating standards utilizing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Digital Silk Road (DSR).

With respect to 5G radio interface technology (RIT) standards,  three China  ministries (MIIT, NDRC and MOST) jointly established the “IMT-2020(5G) Promotion Group” in February 2013. The objectives have been met:

– Promote the development of 5G technologies in China.

– Facilitate cooperation with foreign companies and organizations MIIT Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

– Drive China’s contributions to ITU-R WP5D 5G standards (M.2150 and revisions of M.1036) and 3GPP release 15 and 16 specifications (a Chinese national heads up the critical 3GPP “URLLC in the RAN” project).

The Group helped progress the ITU-R M.2150 standard for 5G RAN/RIT/SRITs.  Initially China had it’s own 5G RIT spec, but it was later merged with 3GPPs as was South Korea’s.

At the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the involvement of Chinese commercial entities have increased after the impetus provided by ITU‘s current Secretary-General, Zhao Houlin who has served two terms as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (STB).   China is second only to the U.S. in the number of entities registered as ITU members, according to the referenced Times of Israel blog.

In 2021 alone, Chinese entities backed 145 new standards at the ITU, up from 46 in 2015 and six times more than Western entities.

The number of Chinese nationals in secretariat and leadership positions in critical multi-stakeholder SSOs such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) has also surged in the past decade.

Beyond the IEC, ISO, and ITU, Chinese actors are also active in other SDOs including the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) that develops 5G technical specifications, as well as Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the report said, adding that the companies such as Alibaba, BaiduHuawei, Tencent and ZTE are advanced members of the IEEE Standards Association.

Not only do Chinese firms ‘flood’ committees with a huge volume of standards proposals and contributions, but they also typically vote as a single bloc. Beijing also has a tendency to use its debt and trade leverage to influence the votes of a number of countries in favour of its proposals. This produces a strikingly high rate of success in the number of Chinese submissions at the ITU, the Times of Israel blog noted.

Another emerging facet of China’s approach to technology standards setting is the Digital Silk Road (DSR) initiative, which is one of the primary vehicles delivering Chinese technology to BRI partner states. By signing agreements with BRI partner governments, Beijing is propagating its own technology standards in project host states, creating dependencies that lock these countries into using Chinese vendors and standards.

Beijing’s moves are aimed at setting global standards for the next-generation technologies, the report said, adding, that it wants to gain control over key technologies like the Internet of Things, Cloud Computing, Big Data, 5G and artificial intelligence.

In light of above, it is apparent that Beijing’s moves are aimed at setting global standards for the next-generation technologies. The CCP  wants to gain control over key technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud Computing, Big Data, 5G and artificial intelligence.

International organizations need to be wary of these maneuvers in order to prevent Beijing from dominating global technology standards and thus gaining a monopoly over the world’s future-shaping technologies, the Times of Israel report concluded.


3 thoughts on “China’s state policy: shape global tech standards to increase influence and enhance global reputation

  1. No need to worry too much about China’s dominance of tech standards. The impact and influence will be very short lived, in my humble opinion.

    With Russia’s war in Ukraine (especially bombing and killing civilian targets), the world has recognized Putin is evil. I firmly believe that very soon, the world will conclude that China President Xi’s policies are also evil.

  2. I was surprised to learn that China Inc’s active standards participation was orchestrated by the state (i.e. Chinese Communist Party or CCP). Thinking about the CCP and Russia today, I believe this quote is appropriate, “The greatest trick the devil ever did was making people believe that he didn’t exist.”
    From the 1995 movie “The Usual Suspects

  3. U.S.-China Trade War Background:
    As recently as September, Apple planned to use cheaper chips from China’s Yangtze Memory Technology for iPhones sold locally. But Apple had to quickly reverse course after the U.S. unloaded its ultimate weapon against China’s technology ambitions.

    Until then, the U.S. had moved to block access to key technologies for hundreds of entities on a case-by-case basis. Export bans targeted firms or research centers linked to China’s military. Also those engaged in surveillance of the Muslim Uyghur population or charged with violating export rules or intellectual property theft.

    Yet those restrictions were too porous to seriously blunt China’s technological progress. That may explain why Beijing resisted the urge to retaliate.

    “Technological innovation has become the main battleground of the global playing field, and competition for tech dominance will grow unprecedentedly fierce,” President Xi Jinping said in a May 2021 address.

    China looked likely to prevail, according to a December 2021 review from Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In key 21st century technologies, such as AI, semiconductors, quantum computing and green energy, the authors concluded that China “had already become No. 1” in some areas. And it was on a path to overtake the U.S. within a decade in others — unless something major changed. And something major did change starting last September.

    In a Sept. 16 speech, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said U.S. export controls previously aimed to maintain technology leadership — staying “only a couple of generations ahead” of geopolitical rivals — but didn’t strive for dominance.

    “That is not the strategic environment we are in today,” Sullivan said. Instead, he said, the U.S. faces a competitor willing to devote nearly limitless resources to achieving leadership in technologies that can act as “force multipliers.” The new goal must be to “maintain as large of a lead as possible.”

    The Biden administration in September blocked sales of high-end AI chips from Nvidia and AMD to Chinese companies. Then on Oct. 7, the U.S. announced sweeping export rules aimed at blocking China’s chip progress at every chokepoint.

    The rules don’t just establish a presumption of denial for Chinese purchases of the most advanced AI chips. They also deny China the software to design those chips and the equipment to produce them. They also cut off the key components that go into high-level chip equipment and access to the world’s most advanced chip fabrication facilities. Lastly, the rules aim to deprive the Chinese chip industry of brain power. They require a license for any U.S. citizen, resident or firm to contribute to advanced semiconductor production in China.

    The export rules set the floor for chip equipment exports above the 14-nanometer production achieved by China’s largest chipmaker, SMIC, as early as 2019. As the industry strives to make ever-smaller circuits, which translate to faster and more power-efficient semiconductors, the U.S. aims to degrade China’s semiconductor capability. When the U.S. first restricted exports to the state-owned SMIC in 2020, it allowed equipment sales above 10 nanometers.

    Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM) recently celebrated the start of mass production using its 3-nanometer technology. TSMC is building a 3nm fab in Arizona as part of a $40 billion investment.

    Allies Join U.S.-China Trade War Over Tech:
    Success of the U.S. export controls depends on the cooperation of key allies. News on that front has been largely positive. Taiwan, Japan and Netherlands are largely acceding to U.S. wishes. Netherlands is home to ASML (ASML), the only supplier of extreme ultraviolet lithography equipment needed for the most-advanced chips. In fact, ASML has agreed to go further. It’s also restricting exports of deep ultraviolet lithography equipment. That gear reportedly let SMIC achieve 7-nanometer production.

    South Korea, though seeking assurances about its chipmakers’ ongoing investments in China, also appears to be on board.

    In a March speech to Chinese businesses, Xi blasted the U.S. policy of “all-round containment, containment and suppression on our country, bringing unprecedented severe challenges to our development.”

    French President Emmanuel Macron, fresh from a China trip with a delegation including CEOs from Airbus (EADSY) and Alstom, voiced his own frustration with U.S. strategy and the presumption that Europe will fall in line. “Is it in our interest to accelerate (a crisis) on Taiwan? No,” Macron was quoted as saying.

    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace fellow Matt Sheehan had cautioned that America’s “strongly zero sum approach” to confront China on technology might not be popular.

    That approach “isn’t equally compelling to countries that don’t see themselves as locked in a battle to be the one dominant global superpower.”

    Yet Macron’s criticisms have been an outlier in the escalating U.S.-China trade war. In a March 30 speech, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen painted a picture of “a China that is becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad.”

    Xi has maintained his “no limits” friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, imposed control over Hong Kong and signaled that Taiwan’s turn may come sooner than later. All that has built support for America’s escalation of the technological cold war with China.

    China-Taiwan Flashpoint:
    Some analysts believe Biden is taking a calculated gamble. The bet is that slowing China’s technology progress in the intermediate term is worth the risk that China’s semiconductor sector will emerge stronger and self-sufficient in the long run.

    Yet near-term concerns are preeminent. Taiwan boasts 90% of the manufacturing capacity for the world’s most advanced chips, a 2021 Boston Consulting Group study estimated. The U.S. has embarked on a major expansion of semiconductor production to de-risk its supply chain. That includes $52 billion in subsidies from the 2022 Chips Act. Europe and South Korea are making similar efforts.

    That may not be Biden’s only gamble. As the U.S. essentially weaponizes Taiwan’s advanced chipmaking, might Beijing try to assert its will over Taiwan by force?

    That’s an almost unimaginable scenario, one that seems certain to plunge the global economy into chaos.

    Yet China is “seriously” considering an economic blockade of Taiwan, with the idea of “winning the war without an actual fight,” deputy foreign minister Roy Chun Lee told Bloomberg this week. However, a blockade could easily escalate into military confrontation, he said.

    Early this year, a scenario only moderately less explosive briefly seemed like a real risk. The U.S. aired intelligence suggesting China might begin arming Russia to try and help Putin finish off Ukraine.

    Both U.S. and European officials warned Beijing that crossing that “red line” would bring serious reprisals.

    China Flexes Its Economic Power:
    Yet, for now, Xi is showing no inclination to cross red lines as he prioritizes China’s economic strength, undercutting America where he can.

    China scored a PR coup of sorts in March, seemingly filling the vacuum left by U.S.-Saudi frictions, when it brought together Iran and Saudi Arabia as they restored diplomatic relations. Then, claiming neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Xi paid a visit to Putin to discuss China’s peace plan.

    Although Kyiv sees the plan as a nonstarter, Macron, on his Beijing visit, credited Xi for a serious peace effort. And that wasn’t Macron’s only gift. Airbus announced plans for a second assembly line near Beijing as the European aerospace giant supplants Boeing (BA) amid heightened U.S.-China trade and geopolitical tensions.

    Beijing is seizing every opportunity to use its economic might to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its allies.

    U.S.-China Trade War Complicates Battery Charge:
    A few days after the Airbus news, Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the company will break ground this year on a new Shanghai factory that will produce 10,000 Megapack battery units to meet growing energy storage demand.

    Meanwhile, Ford (F) has reached a deal with China-owned Contemporary Amperex Technology, also known as CATL, to produce lithium ferrous phosphate EV batteries at a new factory in Michigan. Tesla reportedly has had similar discussions with CATL. Yet the Ford-CATL partnership has drawn fire from U.S. lawmakers angry that a Chinese firm might benefit, if only indirectly, from Inflation Reduction Act subsidies. Beijing, for its part, reportedly plans to scrutinize the deal out of concern Ford will gain access to sensitive technologies.

    The Ford-CATL partnership is “a symbol of how difficult it is for the United States to balance the interests of private industry with the desire to reduce dependence on Chinese technologies,” wrote Council on Foreign Relations researcher Seaton Huang.

    China Considering Restricting Exports:
    China world tradeAs the federal government puts up hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies to accelerate the build-out of a U.S.-centric supply chain, Beijing may be mulling ways to disrupt things. China is considering restricting exports of technology and equipment for making photovoltaic cells for large solar panels.

    Micron, which is building a $20 billion chip factory in New York, recently warned about the impact of a ban on Chinese exports of rare earths.

    The U.S. is working to diversify its rare earth supply. MP Materials (MP), a major rare earths miner via its Mountain Pass, Calif., complex, has long shipped its unseparated bulk concentrate to China for processing. But it’s beginning to separate the rare earths it mines. The next step is completing a Texas manufacturing facility that will produce enough magnets to power 500,000 EVs per year. General Motors (GM) is a strategic partner.

    U.S.-China Relations Tense, Economies Intertwined:
    In rare earths and solar, the U.S. has the capacity to diversify away from China, analysts say. But the process may be a multiyear one with high costs.

    Five years after former President Donald Trump launched his China trade war, the world’s two biggest economies are still very much intertwined. Two-way U.S.-China trade, including Hong Kong, hit a record $725 billion in 2022, up 2.5% from 2018.

    That’s not to say there’s no decoupling. Trade in semiconductors and Boeing jets has tumbled. Agricultural exports to China have surged, but that’s thanks to food inflation.

    Over the same period, U.S.-Vietnam trade exploded by $80 billion to $139 billion. China’s exports to Vietnam, however, more than doubled over the past five years, note Carnegie Endowment fellows Yukon Huang and Genevieve Slosberg. Much of the growth in exports to Vietnam came in areas like computer accessories and telecom equipment, where Chinese exports to the U.S. fell.

    The implication: “China may be exporting less to the United States directly, but it is now indirectly exporting more.”

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