ChinAI #108: Open Source and Entity-listed Companies

Docker's ToS Change Raises Concerns Among Chinese Developers

Greetings from Iowa City where the guns fail when surrounded by writing

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Feature Translations:

1) Docker Prohibits Use by U.S. “Entity List” Subjects, but Docker Open Source Projects are Not Affected

2) Abandoning Open Source! Docker’s Storehouse of Container Image (Docker Hub) may “cut off supply”

Docker’s recent update to its terms of service changed language on restrictions for use by companies on the U.S. “entity list,” which includes Chinese tech companies such has Huawei, SenseTime, Yitu, Megvii, Hikvision, iFLYTEK, Qihoo 360. Two quick-hitter translations give different perspectives on this news: 1) new favorite of mine dedicated to China’s open source community (OSChina); 2) a longtime AI-focused portal (xinzhiyuan)

*One of the criteria I use for picking stories to feature on ChinAI is language asymmetry: you won’t find a single English-language article about this topic, and the quotes from high-level Linux rep were only published in Chinese (my assumption because I couldn’t track down the English). In fact, the only English reference to this whole Docker situation was a random Github comment.

First, a little context and some technical translations:

  • Docker = American company, headquartered in SF, that provides a containerization platform that allows “developers to easily pack, ship, and run any application as a lightweight, portable, self-sufficient container, which can run virtually anywhere.” Basically all IT and cloud companies have adopted Docker, or a containerization alternative. A survey of 997 technical professionals re: their adoption of cloud computing found that 49 percent of them used Docker (up from 35 percent in 2017)

  • Container image = a lightweight, standalone, executable package of software that includes everything needed to run an application. Docker also plans to delete 4.5 petabytes (PB) of container images that haven’t been used for six or more months.

  • What’s the relationship between Docker and Linux? Linux is the best-known and most-used open source operating system. Docker runs on any Linux system, but Docker loses some of its appeal on Windows because “it doesn’t let you deploy the same containerized application on any modern version of Windows.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The more “news-y” source (xinzhiyuan) presents the worst-case scenario for Chinese developers: If the container images on Docker Hub cannot be used anymore, the impact will be similar to the disconnection of GitHub. The extent of the spread remains to be further analyzed, but many of the BATH (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei) services are built on Docker. The impact of this on individual companies depends on the company’s use of Docker Hub’s basic container images. The article muses “open source may just be a beautiful fantasy.”

  • Both articles cite Linux statements about how open source tech like Docker is insulated from US export controls. A July 2020 Linux white paper on US export controls and open source stated: “For the purposes of compliance with the EAR, if the open source technology is publicly available without restrictions upon its further dissemination, then it is ‘published’ and therefore ‘not subject to’ the EAR.” *If the open source tech involves encryption, then there are other issues

  • Two quick indicators of how COUPLED Linux is with Chinese developers: 1) that white paper has a Chinese version; 2) Joe Fay writes for Devclass, “Both the Linux Foundation and CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) are in a very delicate position on this. Huawei is a Platinum member of both organizations of the Linux Foundation, meaning combined dues of the better part of a million dollars, before taking into account sponsorship at events, and other ways it contributes.”

  • More on the resilience of cross-border open source: The community’s free version of Docker CE is built and compiled on the open source version, and this is the version used by most developers.

A nice concluding nugget via the xinzhiyuan piece on the futility of 20th-century tech controls in an open source world: Weibo commentator pokes fun at Trump's export control approach: "In actuality, Pres. Trump fundamentally doesn't know where the vital lifeblood is. If he cut off stackoverflow, everything from zhichun road to xi’erqi would flame out."


1) Docker Prohibits Use by U.S. “Entity List” Subjects, but Docker Open Source Projects are Not Affected

2) Abandoning Open Source! Docker’s Storehouse of Container Image (Docker Hub) may “cut off supply”

Four to Forward

Must-read: Nine Months Playing House in Beijing

I think reading fiction helps humanize the “U.S.-China relationship,” so I’ll plan to plug it more. Recommended by Halimah Marcus for Electric Lit: Diana Xin’s “Sweet Scoundrel” is a story of remarkable scope, covering nine months, two cities, and four characters with agility that is at once thorough and efficient. Tiantian, in her mid-twenties and from a rural village, works at a KTV in Beijing. There, she meets Robert Cao. His wife and daughter live conveniently far away in Boston—too far to exert influence over how he behaves on his extended business trips. Robert and Tiantian begin a relationship, and, by the first paragraph of the story, Tiantian is pregnant…Between these four individuals there is a marriage, an affair, a would-be big sister, fatherhood, motherhood, the possibility of divorce. It’s a lot for a short story, but Diana Xin manages it all elegantly, moving the plot in unexpected ways and deepening her readers’ understanding of loyalty, betrayal, and family in the process. 

Should-read: AI Principles in Context

By Jessica Cussins Newman for Asia Society’s series on AI issues across the US and China. She writes, “The emergence of AI principles from stakeholders in both the United States and China provides reasonable points of leverage for collaboration if there is sufficient political will from both countries to act upon them. There are also tensions and divergences, both in the principles themselves and in the broader political and institutional environment in which they are employed. Overall, the issue of AI Green-Yellow-Red (GYR) Framework put forward by the Asia Society, meaning that both opportunities and substantive challenges stand in the way of greater collaboration between the United States and China when it comes to artificial intelligence.”

Should-read: What is Chinese about Chinese Business?

A Journal of Contemporary China article from 10 years ago but tackling a question that’s very relevant today. Abstract: There is an implicit but commonly held assumption that Chinese businesses are distinctively Chinese. Casting them in unitary and national terms, this assumption has often provided the underpinnings for the conception of the strength of Chinese businesses as signs of an emerging China threat. Drawing on a global production networks (GPN) approach, this paper aims to question the assumption by arguing that many Chinese businesses, embedded in the expanding global and regional production networks, have taken on important transnational characteristics. Given these transnational connections, Chinese business networks in both ‘Greater China’ and China proper are characterized more by diversity and fragmentation than by cultural coherence and homogeneity.

Should-read: The Nuances of Confucianism in Technology Policy: an Inquiry into Chinese Digital Ethics

By Hannah Rose Kirk, Kangkyu Lee & Carlisle Micallef, this paper that presents the Cybersecurity Law and Social Credit System as influenced by a Confucian governance framework for digital ethics. Thanks to Hannah Kirk for sharing a full text link to the article that’s available for the next four weeks!

Thank you for reading and engaging.

These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a researcher at the Center for the Governance of AI at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

Check out the archive of all past issues here & please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay for a subscription will support access for all).

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