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Issues & Insights Vol. 23, WP2 – Digital China: The Strategy and Its Geopolitical Implications

  • Dr. David Dorman

    Retired U.S. Government China Specialist

  • Dr. John Hemmings

    Senior Director of Indo-Pacific Foreign and Security Policy Program at Pacific Forum

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Digital China: The Strategy and Its Geopolitical Implications

February 22, 2023

By Dr. David Dorman & Dr. John Hemmings

Over the past few years, there has been growing concern inside the United States, Europe, and in the Indo-Pacific on the strategic direction behind China’s technology policies. Beginning with the debate over 5G and Huawei, this debate has covered Artificial Intelligence (AI), quantum teachnology, and semi-conductors – a foundational technology. And despite a large number of policies in place – Made in China: 2025, Cyber Super Power, and the New Generation AI Development Plan – few in the West have known China’s overall digital grand strategy.

In the first installment of a three-part research project, Dr. Dorman and Dr. Hemmings lay out the rise of China’s overall digital grand strategy, Xi’s role in it, and how it has been organized to fulfil Party objectives.

The report tracks the rise of the strategy over the past 10 years, the acceleration of that rise during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the current state of the strategy. In particular, it finds

  • Digital China has been supported and designed by General Secretary Xi Jinping himself, and is a bid to make China more competitive vis a vis the West through the digital transformation of rules, institutions, and infrastructure at the national level.
  • Over the past few years, the strategy has risen to become the “overall” strategy for digital development in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, bigger than the Digital Silk Road, deeper than the Belt and Road Initiative, more far reaching than 5G or AI, more important than Made in China: 2025, and wider than Cyber Great Power.
  • A renewed Digital China seeks to challenge a hegemonic global system anchored to a previous age. A successful Digital China has profound implications for China’s developmental path, great power competition, and for the norms that will undergird the international system for decades to come.
  • The Party leadership has re-written Marxist economic theory in its bid to incorporate “data” as the basis of its digital economy and in order to foster a Chinese “Digital Marxism”.
  • Digital China seeks to whet the “sharp weapon” of innovation to facilitate its great power rise and challenge to the West. Beijing is testing whether innovative thinking can be created through the digital transformation of tools, talent, and learning.

The US and its allies have begun to effect strategic counter-effect to the myriad of PRC technology policies, there is almost zero understanding or public discussion of this digital grand strategy. Whether inattention, mistranslation, or obfuscation, Digital China has been mostly missed by the West over the past decade.

Read the report here.

Endorsements

Digital China shows us that China’s geopolitical ambitions go beyond becoming the unrivalled power in the Indo-Pacific. Under Xi, the PRC is building a domestic digital universe that, over time, will parallel its global economic, diplomatic, and military expansion.

Anchored in Marxist ideology, Xi’s digital universe is expeditionary by nature. For those of us who want to remain untethered from the PRC surveillance state, Digital China is essential reading. Our digital sovereignty depends on it.

Andrew Hastie, Shadow Minister for Defence, Australia 

 

When it comes to the Chinese Communist Party’s digital strategy, Las Vegas rules do not apply – what happens in China will not stay in China. As Digital China demonstrates, the CCP aims to make its techno-totalitarian values the bedrock of the global digital future. David and John’s report is essential reading that should galvanize action across the free world.

Rep. Michael Gallagher, Chairman, House Armed Services Subcommittee, Cyber, Information Technologies, and Innovation

 

As Dr. Hemmings and I wrote in our 2019 paper ‘Defending our Data’, the debate about Huawei and 5G is ultimately a debate about China and technology. It is less a discussion of cyber security, but more about China’s future intentions on the global order. It is properly understood, a debate on how different political systems apply technology to governance. In Digital China, Dorman and Hemmings have found a critical element in understanding China’s global intentions and the role that Marxism plays in that.

 Bob Seely, MP, Member, Foreign Affairs Committee, UK Parliament