Revealed: The semi-secret list of techs Beijing really really wishes it didn't have to import

I think we can all agree that China is not alone in wishing it had an alternative to Microsoft Windows


China has identified "chokepoints" that leave it dependent on foreign countries for key technologies, and the US-based Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) claims to have translated and published key document that name the technologies about which Beijing is most worried.

CSET considered 35 articles published in Science and Technology Daily from April until July 2018. Each story detailed a different “chokepoint” or tech import dependency that China faces. The pieces are complete with insights from Chinese academics, industry insiders and other experts.

CSET said the items, which offer a rare admission of economic and technological vulnerability , have hitherto “largely unnoticed in the non-Chinese speaking world.”

“PRC state-run media content rarely go into detail about exactly which ‘key and core technologies’ are ‘controlled by others,’ nor do they specify just who these ‘others’ are,” said the think tank.

Some of the most vexing of the choke points deal with high-end electronics and specialized steel alloys. They include technologies like photo-lithography machines for making microchips, underwater connectors for seafloor observation networks, and the vacuum evaporators needed to make high-end OLED displays. High-end steel, RF components for mobile phones, microspheres for LCD panels and microchips, and even operating systems like Windows rate a mention.

The documents define chokepoints as representing technologies made by only a handful of companies in North America, Europe or Japan, and which have very few alternatives available inside China. Products that are unusually hard to import also make the chokepoint list.

Another problem the translated documents describe is that Chinese companies act in their own interest, rather than the national interest. That means some buy components from trusted foreign sources rather than Chinese sources. Trust in quality of domestic products is a major driver of that behaviour.

CSET's assessment of the documents also found that China's R&D pipeline has often failed to deliver, leaving foreign products as an unavoidable alternative.

However, the series of article was overall hopeful that dependency on foreign core technologies is on the decline, thanks to homegrown science and engineering advances, reverse engineering, and corporate acquisitions.

In October 2020, Beijing set a goal to be self sufficient in tech by 2035. A national strategic plan and “Made in China 2025” slogan seek to increase the Chinese-domestic content of core materials to 40 percent by 2020 and 70 percent by 2025.

China has made slow progress to those objectives. Earlier this month, market research company IC Insights predicted China will only produce one in five of the chips it uses in 2026.

“If you have [intellectual property] you have power, then you speak and you win” China tech expert and author of books including US-China Tech War and Parallel Metaverses Nina Xiang recently told The Reg in conversation about China tech manufacturing. She added that in a lot of ways, China was starting from scratch.

“As a country trying to catch up the lesson is: 'Just be modest and don’t produce documents like Made In China 2025. Why pick up a rock and hit yourself? But that’s how China has always done things, they’ve always had documents like that and failed, and produced new ones every five years.” ®

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