By the 100th birthday of the People’s Republic in 2049, China wants to be at the forefront of technology and sovereignty. As early as 2030, according to the will of its rulers, the Middle Kingdom is to establish itself as a world power in key technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) including biometric face recognition, cloud computing and autonomous driving. It has been the world champion in patent applications for several years. At the same time, the government in Beijing has recognized the power of setting standards in order to enforce technological leadership.
The race for standards and norms is generally not just about international validity, but also about financial gains. If you own the standard, you rule the market, the inventor and industrialist Werner von Siemens likes to put it in the mouth as a quote. Or as the parliamentary state secretary for economic affairs Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker (CDU) puts it: “Those who set the standard have the best prospects of asserting themselves on the market.”
In the field of computer programs, there is even a separate word for the power of home-made standards: “standard software”. Although it only covers a limited area of application, it works the same everywhere and is relatively easy to use. Since the then still young company Microsoft pushed Windows and later Office onto the market in the fight against established IT giants such as IBM, the operating system and the office package have still belonged to the “standard” for many despite open source alternatives.
In addition to influencing industrial policy, license fees also play a major role in standards. So far, China has been left behind: Since most of the proprietary standards in the technology industry are created by foreign companies, it is still the second largest payer of such royalties globally.
“New Silk Road” initiative
That should change. With its new strategy, the communist government is pursuing a multi-track approach: it is unifying the national standardization system, bringing Chinese experts increasingly to international forums such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and trying to establish standards with the initiative of To export the “New Silk Road” (“Belt and Road”) via trade corridors to the participating countries, especially in Africa, Asia and the Balkans. Chinese monitoring techniques are anchored there and international standardization efforts are undermined.
European countries like Germany in particular set early industrial standards. A few decades ago, many countries and companies around the world simply adopted DIN standards. Today, however, standards for the Internet are mainly created by bodies based in the USA such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) or the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). In the Internet of Things (IoT), Industry 4.0, the new generations of mobile communications 5G and 6G as well as other future technologies such as e-mobility, Beijing now wants to be ahead of the curve.
Inexpensive licensing of know-how
China, for example, is already leading a new international research group on the standardization of IoT and blockchain solutions, explains Rebecca Arcesati from the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics) in Berlin. Beijing also managed to host the first meeting of the SC42 forum, which is currently particularly important for AI standardization, and to secure a high level of local representation.