There is much to admire about China’s rise as a technology and innovation power to become a rival of the US on many fronts. The admiration could well prompt other countries, particularly China’s neighbor that is pushing for the Digital India initiative, to consider ideas on duplicating China’s success.
But it could be misleading if the interpretation of the “China story” is distorted, as seen in a recent article in the India-based Economic Times, which mistakenly concluded that China’s digital protectionism “can be analogous to India’s victory in Globalization 4.0.”
It is true that well-known Chinese technology companies and products such as messaging app WeChat, digital payment outfit Alipay, microblogging site Sina Weibo and ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing take the lion’s share of the domestic market. That prominence is their global claim to fame. But it’s by no means tantamount to protectionism.
The technologies behind all these industry victors are arguably the fruits of China’s reform and opening-up. It’s hard to imagine that these achievements could have been made if the nation had adopted a protectionist doctrine.
This is especially the case with China’s growing prominence in the arena of artificial intelligence (AI), which is essentially being underpinned by the country’s integration into the world of rapid technology changes. It is fair to say that China’s rise as a technology power can be largely attributed to cooperation between Chinese technology companies and their global counterparts, those from the US in particular, which has overshadowed the competition.
As for China’s tougher oversight of its domestic market, a trend that has some foreign businesses complaining about tougher conditions, these complaints mostly indicate that foreign businesses are losing their edge to local peers in China.
Given this situation, the Indian newspaper’s article – which said that “China forced global tech giants to play by their rules or forgo their market” and argued that India shouldn’t give in to such pressure – makes claims that don’t stand up to scrutiny.
This sort of misunderstanding of the Chinese market could be disastrous for India, which remains at the early stages of AI development. It’s an illusion that India could leap into prominence as an AI power by adopting the kind of protectionist mentality advocated in the article and conjuring up rivals to China’s Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.
Instead of following this kind of misleading advice, it is suggested that India should seek more cooperation with China in the digital economy to turn its technology ambitions into reality.