China and the internet

Not long ago we fondly believed that one thing all nations would have in common was access to the same digital technology, that is (mainly) the internet. We were wrong. Ever since Beijing began building its Great Firewall in 1996, its censored version of the web has diverged from the one used by the rest of the world. And as tensions between China and the US escalate, this divergence is now spreading to other tech areas. Beijing is creating more of its own bespoke computer hardware; it is investing huge sums in 5G technology and AI; it is poised to disconnect itself from GPS, the universally used satellite navigation system run by the US air force, and switch to its own BeiDou network.

Last year, Beijing ordered all government offices to remove foreign computer equipment and software within three years. Meanwhile, the US has blacklisted Huawei and other Chinese firms, leading Huawei – which can no longer license Google’s Android operating system – to start developing its own system, Harmony OS. The US and China seem to be priming the world for “a digital cold war”. Welcome to “the splinternet”.   (The Week, 27 June 2020, and Margi Murphy and Matthew Field in The Daily Telegraph).

 My comment:  Anyone who knows any history could have warned politicians and big companies that China has for many years had a ( justified?) chip on its shoulder about being pushed around by, and a desire to get even with, the West (and Japan) for perceived humiliations of the past. Now  China is becoming Major Power No. 1, with massive help from Western capitalist corporations, and is exerting huge economic influence in a ruthless fashion, based by large-scale theft of Western know-how and the incarceration of all who, even modestly, disagree with the Party, including the poor Uighers, who have done nobody any harm.

One used to be assured that a constitutional and democratic United States would defend Western values.  Now that this can no longer be taken for granted and the US is becoming more like an average African country, with an autocrat-admirer in charge, the peace of mind I personally used to have in the political future has massively diminished.  As China displaces the US, none of us can rest easy.

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