The Fuse

Blocked Chinese Ministry Website Foreshadows Wider Sino-U.S. Tech Competition

by Skylar Drennen | @SkylarDrennen | May 08, 2019

International visitors to the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s website (MIIT) were in for a surprise over the past few weeks when, after typing in the URL (www.miit.gov.cn), they found that the site would not load. Those visitors who are perhaps used to adapting to the hurdles of conducting research from within China may have tried to turn on their Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and, after manually setting their IP address to appear in China, were rewarded with the discovery that China’s key industry and tech ministry’s website is not down, but instead blocked to the outside world.

Although blocking foreign access to a ministry website may not seem like a large issue, it encapsulates the high-stakes nature of tech competition between China and the United States, particularly in the areas of manufacturing and technology.

Researchers use the MIIT website to obtain official statistics on manufacturing as well as for important regulatory information and discussion of industrial policy. The ministry has become increasingly important for international researchers as Sino-U.S. trade tensions for various reasons—not least because the MIIT is charged with implementing the “Made in China 2025” policy. The Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) describes “Made in China 2025” as an “ambitious plan…to turn the country into a ‘manufacturing superpower’ over the coming decade.” The industrial policy roadmap identifies strategic products and industries that will enable China to dominate both domestic and foreign markets for the coming wave of Industry 4.0.

The plan has drawn a congressional response from Sen. Marco Rubio, whose subsequent report, “Made in China 2025 and the Future of American Industry,” states that Chinese plans to become the global leader in innovation and manufacturing “would be an unacceptable outcome for American workers.” In a separate statement, Rubio highlights “the challenges posed by China’s blatant industrial espionage and coercion.”

Falling just short of establishing local content requirements in order to avoid WTO obligations, the semi-official targets of “Made in China 2025” suggest that the government intends for Chinese companies to dominate the domestic market in areas like new energy vehicles (a category that includes electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles), high-tech shipping components, new and renewable energy equipment, industrial robots, mobile phone chips, and other areas at the forefront of high-tech manufacturing. Industries identified in the grand industrial plan can expect to receive government support through local subsidies, low-interest lending, and other undisclosed forms of state support.

One of these unofficial targets is for Chinese manufacturers to supply 80 percent of new energy vehicles sold in the domestic market by 2025. Such an unofficial target represents a significant threat to international automakers in the Chinese market in the short term and in the global market in the longer term. A recent press release from the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, lauds the domestic supply chain advances in vehicle manufacturing alongside official statistical release from MIIT stating that China sold 1.3 million new energy vehicles in 2018. The reporter writes: “At the Close of the Shanghai International Auto Show and the Chengdu International New Energy Auto Show, this reporter saw how the application of advanced technologies such as 5G and Internet of Things (IOT) mobile technologies not only help the “smartification” of the whole vehicle, but also how the new energy vehicle supply chain aids in the development of these new technologies.”

In its original Chinese, the article strongly infers that these supply chain developments are part of the nation’s plans and efforts under Made in China 2025—a point that is belied in the title of the article: “My Country Will Manufacture More Than 1.5 million New Energy Vehicles in 2019”. Given the tone of the article It certainly doesn’t seem that it is an accident that one of the two articles linked in recommended reading section below is titled: “MIIT: at least one Chinese automaker brand will rank in the top ten for global sales by 2025.”

It is unclear exactly why the MIIT website is blocked when the trade war is slated to come to an end in the coming weeks—barring another breakdown in relations between the two countries. Perhaps the eventual cessation of the trade war between the U.S. and China will lead to a more level playing field, however, the blocking of a key ministry website to those outside of China does not signal that the future of tech and industrial competition will be any less contentious.

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