Not very long ago, a tall technology enthusiast named Steve Mushero started writing “Off-shoring the Middle Class” in California that predicted the American dream might soon be found only in China. Mushero moved himself straightaway to Shanghai and launched a firm that Amazon.com Inc. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. certified as a partner to serve the world’s biggest internet market.
For years, American entrepreneurs saw a place in which they would start tech businesses, build restaurant chains and manage factories, making potentially vast sums in an exciting, newly dynamic economy. Many mastered Mandarin, hired and trained thousands in China, bought houses and started a family.
Western grandees didn’t attend China’s biggest web conference in November. However, in their absence, the local overseers of the nation’s technology industry were only too happy to plug their unique vision for the global internet.
Unlike 2017, when Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai graced the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, this year’s gathering was a decidedly domestic affair, presided over by the likes of Tencent Holdings Chairman Ma Huateng. Given the floor, they again pushed the concept of a rigidly policed medium that nonetheless is a wellspring of innovation to revolutionize businesses and modernize the Chinese economy.
That first part flies in the face of the familiar US-led model, yet has produced two of the world’s 10 most valuable companies: Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent. That rapid ascendancy prompted former Google honcho Eric Schmidt to declare the internet will split down the middle within the next decade, as authoritarian governments adopt China’s all-encompassing controls.
On one side is a cyberspace arena that claims to adopt open communication while the other is a little isolated world where westerns illustrate the image that many are eager to sign away their data in exchange for services. At China’s most important tech industry confab, government officials stressed it’s the country’s destiny to become an internet power, and called for more balanced governance of cyberspace.
China’s regulators have trumpeted its concept of “cyber-sovereignty” since the inaugural conference in 2014. However, the dichotomy between the American and Chinese tech industries has never attracted as much scrutiny as today, when the world’s two richest countries are emgaged in a conflict that may shape a new world order.
As US icons like Google and Facebook come under fire for privacy violations and enabling hate speech, their Chinese counterparts are touting theirs as the superior model: one geared toward the interests of the state.
Remarks from Chinese President Xi Jinping read out at the start of the conference called for “mutual respect” in cyberspace between the two nations. The current rift in their approaches, however, has profound implications and may bar the likes of Facebook and Alphabet from any meaningful presence in the world’s largest internet and mobile arena. It’s another manifestation of what former US Treasury Hank Paulson United States Secretary of Treasury called an “economic iron curtain” dividing the world if the two nations fail to resolve their strategic differences.
Unlike the presumably hands-off American version, the Chinese approach is geared toward one overarching imperative which safeguards the country’s regulations. That is to say that Chinese government has put extensive efforts in order to save its nation from western influences besides culturalizing its own patterns across this sphere.