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A giant of the world economy smashed around the head by coronavirus. A vital international trading partner. A threat to local businesses. A dictatorial government that stifles free speech and violates human rights. All of these labels, and more, get attached to China, depending on who you speak with. One thing’s for sure though, the country with the most people in the world and the second-largest economy has been positioning itself as a technological superpower and is ready to disrupt the status quo.

In the past, you’d have thought of China’s economy as being driven by manufacturing commodities. Over the last couple of decades, it’s shifted its economy to become the top supplier fo high-tech goods, with electric cars, 5G equipment, and smartphones all a part of a 10-year plan known as Made in China 2025 – although the plan doesn’t get much airing now since other countries weren’t happy about it. The end game is to harness all of the country’s resources to catch up and overtake the West in tech sectors, notes Roger Cheng for cnet. The White House noted that the ambition “threatens not only the US economy but also the global economy as a whole.”

The power that’s shifting to China is becoming a point of concern – critics note that the country patakes in cyber spying to get ahead, using what it finds to reverse engineer products and steal intellectual property. These actions have fanned the flames of the US-China trade dispute between the Trump administration and China’s government. Huawei, the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, is barely known in the US because the US government banned them, whilst other Chinese companies like TikTok are coming in for fresh scrutiny in the states.

Coronavirus has upended nearly everything in the world. China was initially thrust into lockdown across much of the country, but with the US now losing control of escalating infection rates, with deaths topping 130,000, this all calls into question where investment in technology is headed in the coming months and years. 

With this subtle, nuanced, and complex backstory, we’re going to be looking at stories out of China in the coming weeks. We’ll look at the technological sphere where China has placed its hopes, from artificial intelligence to 5G. China’s consumers are taking advantage of the best smartphone technology there is and TikTok is putting China front and center of social media like never before – and the US is looking at a ban just as it really takes off. 

The details of the politics won’t concern us directly, but it will inform analysis of how the attitude to technology informs relations between the two states. The dynamic isn’t a straight-up fight between two players; they need each other as much as they thrive on the rivalry.  

There is no doubt competition in the AI and 5G space, but also cooperation in many areas,” notes Sandy Shen, an analyst at Gartner. She points out that plenty of multinationals have research centers in China with locals working with imported talent.

What we cover first demonstrates this interconnectedness – we poke holes in what’s been characterized as an arms race in AI between China and the US. When you look deeper, there’s not so much a race as an interdependence on each other’s advances – it’s only recent tensions that have forced a divergence. 

We’ll be covering Huawei how China is moving in the smartphone market, TikTok’s rise to the top of social media, and whether China will actually create its own version of the internet, plus other issues.  

They’re worth coming back for. Whichever side of the fence you’re on when it comes to China, there’s no doubt that it can’t be ignored any longer.

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