China has ambitious plans to establish itself as a military and economic superpower. In the 21st century, neither of these goals are possible without a thriving innovation economy that relies on advanced Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). If China is to transform itself into an ICT powerhouse, the nation must institute large policy changes. At a recent Brookings event, Greg Austin a Professorial Fellow at the EastWest Institute discussed his new book Cyber Policy in China, which addresses the challenges the country will face in efforts to usher in an ICT revolution.
The State of ICT in China
China has numerous strengths that will aid its efforts to become an ICT superpower. For example, the Chinese firm Lenovo is the world’s largest PC manufacturer. China also has more netizens than any other country in the world. Chinese scientists were the first to successfully teleport quantum information between remote particles. And Chinese engineers are taking a leading role in the development of Internet Protocol Version 6. Many of the world’s fastest super computers are in China. Despite these many achievements, however, China has faced some unexpected ICT challenges. The country fell in the World Economics Forum’s Network Readiness Index from 36th in 2011 to 62nd in 2014, despite recent government efforts focused on improving its worldwide position.
Creating a Generation of Innovators
China made a massive investment into universities throughout the country in 2000, so as to develop greater numbers of Information Technology experts. However, the influx of cash has not had the desired results. Approximately 40 percent of Chinese students who study abroad return to their home, which is below government expectations. In some cases, Austin argues that one reason researchers do not come home because they prefer the “social environment” in other countries.
Four Takeaways about the Future of Chinese Cyber Policy
- China faces many self-imposed barriers that will make it more difficult for the country to become an advanced technology society, including the closed nature of the education system and government censorship of the Internet.
- Chinese leaders have a deep anxiety about building a highly-functional innovation society. This is partially fueled by the tepid results of ICT policies over the past two decades.
- China can’t shield itself off from the revolutionary and transformative effects of the Internet.
- The country’s leadership continues to place an emphasis on building China into an advanced information society.