Encouraging Technological Fragmentation

On May 15th the US government issued an executive order that could effectively reshape the technology that many of us will use in the coming decade. Chinese companies are being accused of using their position as the world's factory to secretly modify the electronics that permeate our lives, making it possible for the Chinese government to monitor everything that everyone does at anytime and anywhere. If this were a joking matter, one might believe that this is little more than jealousy on the part of America's covert ops industry. In addition to this order, the US Commerce Department took additional measures by adding Huawei and 70 affiliates to its "Entity List", which bans the Chinese telecom giant from buying parts and components from US companies without US government approval. Earlier today Google signaled its logical intention to comply with the revised laws by suspending some of its business with Huawei. Other companies outside of the United States that provide hardware and software to Huawei are also cutting the company off in an effort to stay on good terms with the US government.

This leaves Huawei, the second largest mobile phone maker on Earth, in a bind. They cannot get all of the parts they need to build products. They cannot get access to all of the services that Google offers people who use their Android operating system outside of mainland China, which will give potential customers a reason to not buy a Huawei product. Their other products, including TVs and traditional computers, will soon face a similar series of problems.

The people in leadership roles within China will not take this lying down. Huawei and other companies will not have their livelihoods held for ransom every time a foreign government, be it the United States or someone else, decides to issue a decree. The Chinese government could react with a number of measures, but many of these would just hurt their own economic position. Rather than lower themselves to an endless game of action-reaction, it may be time for some of the technological innovations in China to replace those developed elsewhere; a technological split from the west, so to speak.

Zhaoxin is a viable domestic alternative to Intel and AMD for x86-based processors. Kylin is a modern desktop operating system that is certainly up to the task of replacing Windows and macOS if people were so inclined. Huawei has been working on their own fork of Android for quite a while and have even hired some former Nokia people to make it happen. Next generation RISC processors are open-sourced, meaning they can be used by anyone regardless of a government order. It wouldn't be easy, but there is no reason why Chinese corporations, with the support of their government, couldn't "fork" current technologies and begin diverging from the products developed primarily in the United States, Europe, and Israel. In the space of a decade, China could be a technological Galapagos, much like Japan was in the 90s. So long as the Chinese business leaders are smarter than their Japanese counterparts, then it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see Chinese technology begin to replace western technology first in developing countries and later in developed nations.

The parallel development of technologies would probably appear to be a duplication of work at first but, within just a few short years, a noticeable diversion would become apparent. Customers would vote with their wallets. Markets would expand and contract. Companies would adapt or fade from relevance. The reality is far more complex than a 700-word blog post might make it out to be, but a technologically independent China would have a lot of benefits. Not only for the people of China, but everyone around the world. A technological race to domination would drive a lot of innovation and require a lot of intelligent people.

The rising tide raises every boat.

Of course, this could also backfire and result in drastically incompatible systems. I'm optimistic that we would see more good than bad from a technologically independent China, though.