back to article Top Chinese Uni fears Middle Kingdom way behind on tech – and US sanctions make catching up hard

A report from a major Chinese research university has asserted that China currently trails the US's technological prowess, and that progress towards matching its rival will be slowed by the current "decoupling" of the two nations. That opinion appears to have proven so controversial that the research paper expressing it has been …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Wait, what ?

    "Other areas cited where the US exceled within IT were OS kernels"

    I'm sorry, am I supposed to believe that the Windows 1 0 kernel is a point of excellence ?

    Apple's iOS might be slightly marginally better, but I would still not call it excellent.

    Linus Torvalds is the only person I know of who could be called excellent at OS kernels. The fact that he lives in the US now is just a coincidence.

    Now, China may be behind on tech today, but thanks to the rampant and very public xenophobia of the previous US resident in the Oval Office, it has recieved the impetus it needed to start getting up and standing on its own two feet.

    China might be suffering now, but the tech landscape will change and the US (and Europe) is going to have to learn to fight tooth and nail with quality, not just bluster, diplomatic backhandedness and aircraft carriers.

    The dragon is waking up, and that is going to shake the market like nobody can imagine today.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wait, what ?

      As for Windows, the latest is that Microsoft coders have decided to test just how far they could push their victims customers by announcing that their next update will take EIGHT HOURS.

      What I find noteworthy is that Microsoft isn't apologising for this and promising to fix it, no, the fact that they only offer coping strategies suggests they deem this completely acceptable.

      That said, maybe it takes 8 hours because outbound connectivity is always less than inbound? Maybe this is simply implementing the ultimate telemetry: copy ALL user content?

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Wait, what ?

      "the rampant and very public xenophobia of the previous US resident in the Oval Office"

      The fuck does that have to do with it????

      China's been on a "Learn, borrow or steal ALL the IP" mission for decades now. It's stated that it's goal was to catch up and surpass the rest of the world in tech and manufacturing LONG before the Trumpa-Lumpa got into the White House. Trump changed absolutely NOTHING in that regard. But hey, it gets you to shout "Orange Man BAD" again, so... at least it makes you happy?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wait, what ?

        China's been on a "Learn, borrow or steal ALL the IP" mission for decades now.

        Yup. The irony of that is that even that was copied: the US started its own industry in exactly the same way to the point that competing organisations would often base themselves on opposite sides of the US to protect their IP from their own landsmen in the days before photocopiers and the Net.

        Of course, now they have an industry, phase 2 happens: preserving the monopoly.

        Not a China fan, merely pointing out the blatant hypocrisy of that forever returning meme, and they're not even pretend Christians who somewhere must have heard that you do not do onto others what you don't want biting your own backside. Note: I may have misquoted that from memory.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: the US started its own industry in exactly the same way

          winner takes it all, and being a world war winner helps a bit, but let's not talk about such trivialities, four legs good, two legs baaaaad, long live hypocracy! :)

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Wait, what ?

      Linus Torvalds is the only person I know of who could be called excellent at OS kernels.

      This is silly. Torvalds only manages the Linux kernel which hardly makes him an expert on kernels, per se. But there are plenty on the kernel team who understand how it works.

      However, there are also plenty of other OS kernels out there and good people working on them, though it's not a partiucuarly well respected or funded area of research and it's not really something industry is really interested in. They want generally want to be able to write drivers for their kit.

    4. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: Wait, what ?

      China has been going to be the worlds largest economy/most technologically advanced nation next year for the past 20 years. It hasn't happened yet and I doubt it ever will.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wait, what ?

        Here's a hint: Thorium.

        They hold most of the patents, and if you start looking at what cheap, reliable and non-fossil-fuel produced energy will do to the US dollar you'll understand that the US has a problem they cannot bomb their way out of. That clock has started ticking properly since September last year when the first commercial plant came online.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Wait, what ?

          Here's another hint: Wuwei

          China's taken the thorium and the previous MSR researrch and actually BUILT a functioning LFTR (it went critical in October 2021) using Oak Ridge MSRE as a blueprint

          They have a 100MWe test rig (300MWt) intended to take the step which Richard Nixon cancelled in 1972, assuming the small one passes all its validation tests

          The significance of this is that a 3GWt LFTR is considerably smaller than a coal-burner but can act as a drop-in replacement heat source. Look at the recently built chinese coial stations and you'll notice there's a clear space reserved for something to be dropped in on the site

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Wait, what ?

            IMHO the absolute clincher here is the price per MW.

            Given that the LFTR reactor plant is much cheaper to build (simpler, but also less complex so a LOT faster to construct), is default safe rather than in need of active management to prevent embarrasing kabooms, is well over 100x as economic with fuel (uses >99% of it instead of the 0.5% that solid fuel rods tends to manage) which is globally available in almost ready-to-use form and produces far smaller volumes of rapidly decaying waste there will really be no stopping this from becoming the most prominent form of energy generation.

            Add to that its 700ºC operating temperature which is close to the temperature for the most efficient generation of hydrogen and which is directly usable for plants that need heat and I don't see the folks that rely on fossil fuel to maintain their profit and force people into holding their currency in reserve having a good time for much longer. The world can't afford it.

    5. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Wait, what ?

      Windows 10 and iOS don't have to be great, they just have to be better than whatever people are trying to write from scratch. Where are the great kernels from the rest of the world that are making people consider abandoning Windows, iOS, Linux and Android?

      In reality it probably doesn't matter, China doesn't need to write an original from scratch kernel when they can use Linux as they see fit. They can fork Darwin if they want one not encumbered by the GPL that can remain closed source.

      Sure we all know it is possible to do better than Linux and Darwin, but no one is - at least not with any real market success. How long the FSF been plugging away on Hurd? If Google ever finishes Fuschia who the heck is going to commit to using it given their history of getting bored and canceling most of what they start? So where's the need for China to do something original, when no one else is?

      1. Electronics'R'Us

        Better operating systems

        In the embedded space (particularly mission and safety critical) there are certainly very good operating systems but they can be rather expensive depending on the level of certification required.

        I remember a quote from about 12 years ago that a product licence for one of them was $1M and each instance had a fee ($250 I think) for the safety critical product.

        So they really do exist although they are not used as commonly.

  2. Chris G

    The fact that the article has disappeared, shows the Chinese government has paid attention to it and the negative points are likely to provoke discussion and impetus to improve in those areas.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Or more likely the article gets pulled, the Professor and his students end up in a re-education camp, the University denies every employing a Professor by that name, and the state sponsored hackers start trying to obtain more data in those areas the article outlined.

      However, no other changes will be undertaken, as the changes required would need the Communist Party to admit it needs cooperation with the rest of the world to advance it's own goals, which goes against the great leader's glorious vision...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ah yes, but they're not stupid: they will take note and address it. The challenge is doing it without the US copying and embargoing it as soon as they advance - see "Huawei, ban"..

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Ah yes, but they're not stupid

          How do you know they're not stupid? Or at least so unwilling to accept data that doesn't agree with the Party line that their beliefs begin to appear stupid to any rational outsider?

          For example say, read about NATO excercise Able Archer in the early 80s. An excercise that was hastily scaled down because the KGB seemed to genuinely believe that it was a precursor to a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union - and nobody wanted to provoke World War III.

          How can the KGB have genuinely believed this? Given that spying on the West was a hell of a lot easier than spying on the Soviet Union given that even with official secrecy our governments were massively more open than theirs. One option is of course that they didn't trust it - because they were so used to a conpsiratorial and secretive system - they couldn't believe that the West were any different. Just maybe better at hiding it within a mask of openness. Another is that they knew it wasn't true, but you don't get power and a bigger budget by saying your organisation isn't needed, as there's no threat. Another is that the leadership weren't in the West doing the spying and didn't believe the guys on the ground who knew what was actually going on but believed the ones who parotted the Party line about the big scary threats. Which might explain why they were acting on their fears of a NATO first strike?

          As another example, when you read what Putin and the ex-KGB lot say about Ukraine it's always hard to know what's batshit insane and they know it - but are just saying to look scary and uncompromising. Where they're saying mad stuff because they're literally trolling - which is partly a black sense of humour and partly trying to look even more scary and uncompromising. And the scariest thought of all is that some of the batshit insane stuff they say - they might actually genuinely believe.

          The downside of running your whole country through a one party state for decades is that some of the people who get promoted are just good at the political game, but useless at anything else. They don't believe in whatever the Party was originally about, they just know the Party is the only way to get ahead. But I'm sure you still get those who join with some sort of genuine desire to do a good job - again the Party almost is the only way to get any kind of serious power. But to get to that power they've got to spend decades mouthing the Party slogans and appearing to believe them. And eventually they might start believing them. Even if they keep a little space in their heads where they know what's actually true - so maybe that means you know the party is talking bollocks in your area of expertise, but how do you learn the truth in any other area, when all the public statements follow the Party line?

          Once you start serious censorship, even insiders can't always know what's really true. Because at first you hide the truth from outsiders and keep the truth secret, but then the next lot of people to get promoted to the top have learned the "official truth" - and so have to look in the records to find the real truth that's been supressed. But what if someone has also censored that? And how can you know? So it's then dangerously easy for policy to become completely divorced from reality.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        That kind of behaviour mostly went away with Mao

        TPTB might be upset about an assessment that they're not as good as they could be but it'll be egotistical lower echelons of the party who aren't happy. The standard Chinese response to something like this tends to be rolling up sleeves and getting on with it (ie: pouring in more investment in areas shown to be lacking)

        1. Antipode77

          Xi is reintroducing this kind of behavior.

          Remember the unhappy doctor who first signalled the existence of Covid and then died of it.

          Furthermore the presidency was 2 full 4 year terms. For Xi the law was modified so he stays president however long he wants. Same playbook as Putin, by the way.

          The Chinese are on the same slide into autocracy as the Russians.

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      The police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the ....[knock at door, silence]

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re. The fact that the article has disappeared, shows the Chinese government

      agrees with the conclusions.

      but, on the upside (if you continue with us v. them) - the longer the Chinese government tries to stick their heads in their anal cavity, the less successful the less successful China will be in taking over from the US.

    4. DS999 Silver badge

      No one will speak up

      The conclusions that paper reaches are seen as being disloyal to China, hence its disappearance. Even if many in the government believe what the paper said was true they dare not risk telling others that, lest they suffer the consequences as well. So they may silently agree, but publicly will shame the authors for being disloyal to China and the paper will be buried and forgotten.

      Just look at the review of the Iraq "yellowcake" intelligence that led up to the Iraq war to see how this works. There was one informant who made that claim, and his word was suspect. But enough people wanted to reach that conclusion that they ignored the problems with that informant, and those who found conflicting intelligence were demoted. As a result while many in the intelligence community knew the reasons for going to war were suspect, fear of retribution and being "promoted" to some X Files like basement kept them silent until there was a change of power at the top and even then many would only speak to those conducting the investigation if their identity was withheld when the conclusions were made public.

      The potential consequences for speaking up in China's government are even worse than demotion, so there is even more incentive to keep your head down even if you believe that paper is 100% correct.

  3. iced.lemonade

    shed the pride and start competing

    stop wasting effort like neutralizing technical terms for inclusiveness (for example, the endless debate of male/female/master/slave...) and start competing. don't assume that you are leading in tech - always have the mindset of an underling. especially after the covid where many people are becoming poorer in general and if you cannot compete dollar per dollar (i am not saying cheaper is better; i mean the worthiness of each dollar spent) the game is lost. don't under-estimate the power of your opponent - workers in china, in many industries, are like robots; they can churn out stuff with much less overhead than others do, especially in terms of lower labour cost, less consideration to the environment, more hazardrous working environment etc. and they copy (ideas, etc.) and feel that's a natural thing to do.

    if you want to sell your stuff at higher price, prove that it worth it. sometimes i even wonder if open-source is a good thing - it seems the idea of open-source was bred in a previous era where the world was simpler, and now it feels like giving free weapons to your opponent to shoot at you.

    maybe i am biased, but as a hongkonger who are experiencing the increasing aura from mainland i feel it never hurts to be a bit cynical.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Controversial opinion

    Could it be that some Chinese universities are just shells, and the real Chinese academic work is done outside of China? The UK is very popular, especially for tech/science subjects, and some UK universities will happily take £22K + fees per term. These students are extremely bright of course, but are not encouraged to express opinions on subjects other than what they're studying.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Controversial opinion

      I think you're forgetting the sheer size of Chinese academia. While much of it is about turning out graduates for industry, there's no doubt that research into all kinds of areas has increased significantly over the last couple of decades and there are areas, including mobile phone networks, where China is acknowleged to be among the leaders.

      Of course, nationalism and needing to toe the party line do hinder international cooperation, but things have changed almost immeasurably.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Controversial opinion

      "These students are extremely bright of course, but are not encouraged to express opinions on subjects other than what they're studying."

      And to make sure of that, there tend to be PLA minders scattered amongst the genuine studnets. These are usually relatively obvious

      Anon because I work in a university and have had to deal with this stuff

  5. AMBxx Silver badge

    China should encourage academic exchanges?

    Does that mean kidnappings or some other form of forced residence in China? If 90% of your students decide to stay overseas, you have a problem.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: China should encourage academic exchanges?

      I guess the idea is to send people abroad for one or two years of a four year course. Which means you've then got to have universities attractive enough inside China that you can get the other universities to send their students to you for a the reverse side of that transaction. That way at the end of their studies, those Chinese students are still at home having finished their course, but have spend significant time learning abroad.

      Then again, if they've got those attractive skills they may still want to leave your country and be able to get a visa to go back.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: China should encourage academic exchanges?

        We lost a couple of Chinese engineers (one from China, one child of immigrants) to jobs in China

        Salary offered was higher, better promotion prospects - but also the chance to buy a house. No new graduate here has a hope of ever doing anything but renting an apartment 1-2 hours out of the city

        1. martinusher Silver badge

          Re: China should encourage academic exchanges?

          I first came across this a few years ago when a (ex) Chinese colleague got married. To his in-laws he's the 'poor relation' because while salaries in China are similar to California both taxes and the cost of living are a lot lower.

          That was a few years ago when housing was still somewhat affordable here. It was the ambition of a typical Chinese middle class household to own property here, not to live in but as a sort of hedge against unfavorable exchange rate changes. Then we got Trump, wholesale open xenophobia and the meteoric push in housing prices....and the rest, as they say, is history.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is that right?

    “The United States has used network and data security as an excuse to suppress Chinese companies such as Huawei and to exaggerate the Chinese threat on a global scale, making it more difficult for relevant international cooperation, and created a trend of politicization,” Wang and crew wrote.

    So not entirely honest and open about the industrial-scale cyber-intrusion, then.

    And, despite much discussion of aerospace, our hack fails to mention the military/defence sector. Is that a reflection of an equal and prudent lack in the report?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Is that right?

      I think the West still has a big lead in large aero engines. But it's in efficiency and maintenance more than raw power, as I understand it. So not a problem for building military jets - you just have to put up with more costs and maybe slightly shorter range. But that's why the commercial jet market is so dominated by Rolls Royce, GE and Pratt & Whitney - and the next sized players are all joint-ventures that they're part of. Because for commercial aviation cost and fuel efficiency are the most important reason to choose an engine.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Is that right?

        It's a very difficult market to enter. It costs a lot of money to design a new engine and no customer is going to risk buying from a new entrant without the history, of reliability, servicing, global maintenance facilities.

        A few countries make military jet engines locally, they are a lot simpler and you don't need to worry that a spare part and a mechanic will be available in 20years time at the other side of the world.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "We need a few more years' worth of wholescale industrial espionage, IP theft and bribing Western politicians before we're fully up to speed. Don't start WW3 until we say so!"

    Signed, a collection of CCP "academics"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cliffnotes

      Give that they're well ahead in some industries (5G, for instance) I think IP theft happens on both sides, to use an orange tinted phrase. There is a difference between the two, though: the US can manipulate other countries into embargoes to protect their own industries, China cannot.

      Frankly, I don't trust either, but one side seems to be more adept and addicted to stone cold lying.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: Cliffnotes

        One side is also more into nationalistic expansionism through military conquest. I'd rather be ripped off than ripped to pieces.

    2. Merrill

      Re: Cliffnotes

      It sounds a lot like a pitch for more university and academic research funding.

      Compared with the US, more Chinese basic research is probably done in government labs and in government controlled industrial labs with universities more dedicated to turning out the manpower and staff them. I'm sure that their academics would like funding to be more like the US, where we fund a myriad of small grants to a multitude of academic principle investigators who actually produce very little.

    3. Max Pyat

      Re: Cliffnotes

      His is literally what every sucessful modern economy has done. US being an object lesson having wholesale stolen IP from UK and elsewhere during industrial revolution

      The western economies built up in 20th century were often facilitated in this (Korea, Japan, Germany) by US as part of effort to form a bulwark against Communism, rather than having to "steal", but dynamic the same

  8. ZeroPete

    Let me correct that for yu

    The report came from the Peking University Institute of International and Strategic Studies (IISS) and was curated by Wang Jisi, a former dean and professor at IISS, whereabouts currently unknown, although a senior CC party official has insisted he is free and fine.

    No thanks required.


  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    created a trend of politicization

    ah, because on top of legitimate reasons, it always works wonders to hype up the us v. them theme; industry leaders would love it if the plebs bought 'our' tech, rather than 'their' tech. Or at least, if they treated 'their' tech with a degree of suspicion (which, eventually, comes to the same thing).

    Damn, I'm surely talking about Putinocracy, right? Our democratically elected leaders would never, ever, EVER take consider such vulgar factors, surely?! :(

  10. quadibloc2

    Back in the Days of Mao

    there were those who dared to say that China should be happy with catching up with Russia, and they were denounced by those who proclaimed that China would not only catch up with the U.S., but surpass it!

    Of course we're still waiting, despite all the help Ronald Reagan was so kind as to give China by dropping most of the technology sanctions against it, to put pressure on Gorbachev.

    Of course realistic assessments of what everyone knows about China's tech situation are not for public consumption in China! That is sufficiently unsurprising as not to even be news. However, until China goes back to vacuum tubes, and no longer has any nuclear capabilities, it will still be advanced enough to pose a menace to Taiwan, which is what counts.

  11. martinusher Silver badge

    What, exactly, do you mean by "way behind"?

    I have in California so I should be in the thick of advanced whatever. When I look out of the window it doesn't look that advanced to me. Its all quite normal. Practically everything I use day to day now seems to be made in China. The Chinese seem to be able to build a high speed rail network; we've been trying to build one line at its proceeding at a glacial pace and may never get finished. Our freeways are congested and are mostly in a chronically bad state of repair. Our housing is ridiculously expensive -- fine if you own a home but you are so screwed if you don't -- but this is merely a reflection of just how worthless our currency is becoming (if it wasn't for it being the global reserve currency....).

    UK readers aren't better off. Living in the UK is like living in America on chronically lower salaries.

    The Chinese probably have catching up to do. But they are at least catching up, they're going somewhere. We can pride ourselves on how well we do this, that and the other but its meaningless because we're not interested in development -- our (that's both the US and the UK) governments are fixated on stopping 'the other', not developing our own people. We're stagnating.

    Chinese universities are graduating about 35000 engineers each year. That's a lot of skills.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: What, exactly, do you mean by "way behind"?

      Expensive housing in California has nothing do with "worthless currency". If that was true it would be as expensive all across the US, but that's absolutely not the case. I don't live in the cheapest part of the US by any means, but I can buy for $200K what would cost $2 million in Silicon Valley.

      If you want cheaper real estate prices in California just wait for the "big one" to hit. People will flee the state in droves from the mess that will make of the infrastructure for years, and the fear and uncertainty of when the next one will strike.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: What, exactly, do you mean by "way behind"?

        What's going on here with real estate is that once cheap parts of the country and now getting really expensive as well. Florida, for example.

        Obviously you can find cheap(er) housing if you want to live in the middle of nowhere but there are downsides to living in the desert. Or even Texas. A lot of the US is, strictly speaking, uninhabitable during parts of the year.

        Incidentally, I can't speak for the (overpriced) Bay Area but what's happened in southern Caifornia is that you effectively need a half million for a condo or three quarters for a house at a minimum. Its true that house prices will dip after an earthquake -- this happened with the Northridge one in 1994 -- buit the dip isn't universal and even those areas that were hit badly have recovered.

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