China talks up tech prowess in face of US rivalry

October 21, 2019

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WUZHEN (China): A woman receives a glass of milk served by a robot at a stand during the Sixth World Internet Conference here on Sunday.—AFP
WUZHEN (China): A woman receives a glass of milk served by a robot at a stand during the Sixth World Internet Conference here on Sunday.—AFP

WUZHEN: China on Sunday said it aimed to become a “great power” in the online world and took a swipe at Washington on trade, kicking off its annual conference promoting the Communist Party’s controlled version of the internet.

US-China rivalry is increasingly playing out in the digital sphere, as Beijing pursues dominance in next-generation technology while Washington takes measures to cripple Chinese tech firms like Huawei.

China monitors and censors its internet, with US titans Facebook, Twitter and Google all hidden behind a so-called “Great Firewall” that also blocks politically sensitive content.

At the yearly World Internet Conference, held in the picturesque ancient canal town of Wuzhen since 2014, Chinese officials talked up the country’s tech prowess.

“We have become a cyberspace power of 800 million netizens,” the head of the Communist Party’s publicity department, Huang Kunming, said in a keynote address.

Huang added that in the future, China “will unceasingly expand the fruits of internet development and forge ahead from a cyberspace ‘big power’ to a cyberspace ‘great power’ ”.

He also denounced “cyber-hegemony and bullying” by other countries — using language typically reserved for the United States — which he said were behind confrontation in the high-tech world.

The US is threatening crippling sanctions on Huawei, which is expected to be a leading player in the advent of ultra-fast 5G communications that will make many new technologies possible.

“Some countries have placed restrictions on and suppressed other countries and companies, escalating uncertainty and even antagonism in cyberspace,” Huang said, without naming the United States.

The US commerce department earlier this month said it would blacklist 28 Chinese entities it claimed were implicated in rights violations and abuses in China’s Xinjiang region.

President Xi Jinping has previously sketched out plans for China to gain dominance — with heavy assistance from the government — in key future technologies by 2025, a strategy that has caused US alarm.

In the past, the conference has drawn leading US tech CEOs such as Apple’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai. But with the US-China tensions simmering, this year’s conference lacks any high-profile US figures.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019