On China's global tech dominance #Forum2000online

June 10, 2021

In this week's #Forum2000online Chat, Didi Kirsten Tatlow, a specialist on China and the author of “China’s Quest for Foreign Technology: Beyond Espionage”, speaks about the historical reasons behind China's battle for global technological dominance, its newest techniques and most importantly about the threats that it raises to democratic societies.

Working to achieve the technology dominance 

The goal of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is to build a strong economy along with technological dominance. CCP is openly saying that it needs this technological capability to fight future wars. The technological race is an old quest as China initially fell behind the West.

To its advantage, our society knows very little about China. As Zhou Enlai said, and Tatlow quotes:

“The first level of encryption in China is the Chinese language.”

Changing China through trade a failed strategy 

It seems that instead of us changing China, China is changing us. Germany, for example, started a policy called “Wandel durch Handel” (Change through trade), assuming that it would shape China into a more democratic country. Moreover, according to Tatlow, these countries are not aware of being in the state of elite capture. And as the researcher warns: 

“Elite capture precedes state capture.” 

Many ways of infiltrating the media 

China uses many channels of information and constantly develops new ways of reaching the local news market. The example would be paying for articles in media that are not otherwise pro-CCP. 

“It is important to the CCP to remove what is regards as ideological threats to the domestic system.” 

Tatlow urges us to always look for the ties behind seemingly apolitical organizations. The propaganda is getting influence drop by drop, through organizations that do calligraphy or promote Chinese music.

Our reaction comes late 

According to Tatlow, the West has been misunderstanding China for decades. 

“CCP is good at playing the capitalist game, it does things that look very similar to capitalist democratic societies.” 

We lost time by thinking it would change according to Western normative standards. Now we need to both address the way it exploits the free market as well as secure our own democratic systems. 

In this interview, you will learn that:

  • CCP is building up its technological capability, and the West is assisting it, without being fully aware. 
  • There are not many ways to properly understand China without knowing Chinese.
  • In some cases, such as Germany, it has already infiltrated in the state structures, causing the so-called elite capture. 
  • The real issue is not economic relations with China but its normative influence and import of values.  
  • Democracies are very open societies and therefore very easy to infiltrate.
  • We misunderstood China by thinking it would change after integrating into the open market. Instead, China seems to be changing us. 
  • China uses media in a way that it is not clear that they are paid by the CCP.

Didi Kirsten Tatlow is a senior fellow at the Asia Program at the German Council of Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin, Germany, and a Senior Non-Resident Fellow at Projekt Sinopsis in Prague, Czechia.

The interview was recorded on May 31, 2021, and moderated by sinologist and journalist Kateřina Procházková, Sinopsis, Czech Republic.