ChinAI #113: Around the Horn Again

Plus, where's the coverage about Japanese companies in China?

Greetings from a world where…

Eugene Han, a PhD fellow at RAND who researches China tech, commented, “The last time was reading about a Japanese government initiative to fund shifting production out of China. Otherwise almost nothing over the past year(s).”

Indeed the major story about Japanese companies in China, at least this year, was that Japan was subsidizing 87 companies to shift production lines out of China. First reported by Nikkei Asian Review, this story was later picked up by the New York Times and the Washington Post. It makes sense why this is the only story that made it past the editor’s desk: probably got good clicks, tied to a specific policy, and fits with the DECOUPLING! narrative.

What’s missing is an understanding of the bigger picture, which the stats in my tweet point toward. Here’s the context that these articles lack: there are 33,050 Japanese companies in China, and the proportion of Japanese companies that chose to shrink, relocate, or withdraw from the Chinese market was the lowest it’s been in the past five years — 4.3 percent points less than the ratio in 2015. That’s from a recent 2020 Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) White Paper on “Japanese Companies and the Chinese Economy.” According to JETRO’s survey, 93.8% of Japanese companies in China said they would either maintain the status quo or expand their business scale in China. Via Sina Finance’s (Chinese-language) readout.

I think this is a really good example of a blindspot in English-language coverage of China. As David Wertime’s latest Politico China Watcher reminds us: Earth to Washington and Beijing: It’s not all about you.

…As always, the searchable archive of all past issues is here. Please please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay support access for all AND compensation for awesome ChinAI contributors).

Around the Horn Again

Let’s run it back. Same structure as ChinAI #109:

  • short preview of 10 articles related to ChinAI — all published this past week and sourced from scans of WeChat accounts and groups

  • reply to the email and/or comment on the Substack post with the number of the article you’re most intrigued by, and we’ll translate a couple for next week!

  • some added weight to votes from subscribers that are supporting ChinAI financially

My hope is that folks researching this space and related areas can get more familiar with these types of sources, so I put more emphasis on linking to past ChinAI coverage of specific platforms. Okay, let’s go around the horn…again! (all links go to the original Chinese article)

1) Tencent, A Manufacturing Re-evaluation

Summary: How does a company with social media and gaming roots try to transform manufacturing services? Good details on what makes Tencent different from other Internet giants trying to expand their domain, in particular the value of the WeChat ecosystem at the enterprise level.

Source: 机器之能/jiqizhineng (Synced) — a long-time source for ChinAI translations, often features longform articles about China’s tech industry

2) Tsinghua Law professor says “No” to facial recognition access control in neighborhoods districts

Summary: Reviews Professor Lao Dongyan’s protests against the use of facial recognition access control in entry/exit for neighborhoods/residential communities, which has become more common in a time of Covid. Also covers a seminar held on this topic held in Beijing on September 23. Recall that ChinAI #77 featured her strong case against the use of facial recognition on the Beijing subway.

Source: 南方都市报 (NDDaily) — Southern Metropolis Daily, newspaper published in Guangzhou -- well-known for its investigative journalism.

3) Right Brain AI

Summary: Longform article that examines Microsoft’s XiaoIce chatbot, as a new example of “Right-brain AI,” which enables machines to emotionally connect with human beings. Plays off the distinction with “left-brain AI” — which is more connected to calculation and rational decision-making.

Source:出色WSJ中文版 (Wall Street Journal, Chinese edition) — The WSJ’s Chinese-language site was launched in 2002. I wonder how often WSJ Chinese, or similar platforms like FT Chinese, translate their Chinese-language reporting into English.

4) “New Infrastructure” musters troops for the battlefield, BATH evolves toward intelligence

Summary: Assesses the positions of Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei in their attempt to construct the new infrastructure of the “Internet of Everything [万物互联].”

Source:钛禾产业观察 (Taihe Industry Observer). I covered this plaform in-depth in these two previous ChinAI issues, describing them as China’s mini DefenseOne. The first link has a translation of the 11th article in their “Transformer” series. This is number 15 in that series.

5) Yunxi assists enterprises in digital transformation with standardized digital “middle platform” products

Summary: To try and catch the wave of digital transformation, many companies have tried to implement a 中台 (zhongtai) strategy. This article is a brief look at Yunxi, a leading service provider of digital 中台 (zhongtai). I could not, for the life of me, figure out the best way to translate this term. Eventually, came across this Zhihu thread that suggested “middle platform.” An architecture concept first articulated by Alibaba, a middle platform is an additional connective layer that fits between the traditional 2-tier structure of business applications (back-end and front-end)

Source: 赛迪网 (CCIDNet). Interesting site that covers IT industry developments. Related to CCID consulting, which is also producing a lot of good content. I wrote a little bit about the output of consulting firms/think tanks like CCID, Qianzhan, etc. in ChinAI #72.

6) IDC Marketscape Report: “Assessment of China’s Conversational AI Vendors

Summary: Released September 24, this report examines China’s dialogue-based AI market, which is predicted to reach 1.56 billion USD by 2024.

Source: International Data Corporation (IDC) is a Massachusetts registered and headquartered research company focused on the tech landscape. Interestingly, it was bought by China Oceanwide, a large Chinese conglomerate in 2017. IDC’s China division produces a lot of Chinese-language reports.

7) “AI Governance Online” Platform, launched in 2020 Zhongguancun Forum

Summary: This public service platform, a joint initiative by the Beijing Academy of AI and China-UK Research Centre for AI Ethics and Governance, was launched on September 19. Provides an evaluation for an AI project based on global AI governance principles as well as AI risk and governance case studies. You can play around with English-language version here; after, filling out the evaluation, it scores the project:

*It’s an impressive effort, and I applaud this important collaborative effort in the space of global AI governance. However, is this going to be a censorship-free space where the case studies section could include China’s use of facial recognition technology to target Uighurs and other ethnic minorities?

Source: 北京智源人工智能研究院 (Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence): BAAI was launched by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Beijing Municipal Government in November 2018; it’s also supported by a lot of top Chinese universities and tech companies. For an interview with the head of BAAI’s AI ethics and safety research center, see ChinAI #52. For a summary of BAAI’s 2019 conference, see ChinAI #73.

8) An overseas PhD graduate at age 30, I decided to return to Shanghai Jiaotong University to Study AI

Summary: A profile of Jingwen Leng, who studied for a Computer Science PhD in the Department of at University of Texas at Austin, and has now returned to be a tenure-track Associate Professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University’s John Hopcroft Center. Relates his story to those of others in similar positions.

Source: AI科技评论(aitechtalk) — focuses on in-depth reports on developments in the AI industry and academia.

9) Is China’s Image on Twitter Getting Worse and Worse — A Tsinghua research team reveals the inside story

Summary: This article highlights this arxiv preprint that investigated China’s image among foreign publics based on a large-scale Twitter dataset. More interesting to me was the comment section, where some people noted the “guts/balls/courage” of Leiphone to cover such topics.

Source: 雷锋网 (Leiphone) — a long-time source for ChinAI translations, which I think of as China’s MIT Tech Review. See ChinAI #60 for more on this source.

10) China Standards 2035 vividly portrayed, this is the real key to Sino-U.S. tech competition

Summary: On glance looks like a good overview of China Standards 2035, albeit a bit hype-y and steeped in the great power competition narrative. Some good stats from Japan’s ICT tech committee on China’s growing influence in ICT standards.

Source: 智谷趋势(zgtrends) — new one to me, some harsh reviews on this Zhihu thread, describe themselves as cief intelligence adviser to decision-makers, and were one of Hurun China’s Top 50 most influential finance self-media.

***Okay same drill as last time: Reply to the email, or comment on the Substack post, with the number of the article you’re most intrigued by, and choose the feature translation for next week! If you’re supporting ChinAI financially as a subscriber, flag that in your reply, and I’ll give it a little added weight when tallying up all the votes.

ChinAI Links

Must-read: The Chipmakers — US Strengths and Priorities for the High-End Semiconductor Workforce

CSET analysis by Will Hunt and Remco Zwetsloot: “Technical leadership in the semiconductor industry has been a cornerstone of U.S. military and economic power for decades, but continued competitiveness is not guaranteed. This issue brief exploring the composition of the workforce bolstering U.S. leadership in the semiconductor industry concludes that immigration restrictions are directly at odds with U.S. efforts to secure its supply chains.”

Should-read: Scientists use big data to sway elections and predict riots — welcome to the 1960s

Harvard historian and writer of many New Yorker must-reads, Jill Lepore re-introduces us to the history of Simulmatics, which pioneered the use of computer simulations and pattern detection in American political campaigns. Draws from her book: If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future (2020).

Should-read: Europe and AI: Leading, Lagging Behind, or Carving Its Own Way?

A really useful overview of Europe’s AI strategy (both at the European Commission- and country-level). Ending has some smart recommendations, and the paper frames Europe’s strategic position well:

  • “Given the need to address the societal, ethical, and regulatory challenges posed by AI, the EU’s stated added value is in leveraging its robust regulatory and market power—the so-called ‘Brussels effect’—into a competitive edge under the banner of ‘trustworthy AI.’”

  • “Yet normative principles and regulation alone are not enough for the EU to become a global AI leader. What is also required is a reevaluation of European competitiveness in this field in a way that leverages its comparative advantages… There is a clear rationale for a stronger EU-level role and for a more coherent European-wide approach to AI that complements member states’ own actions.”

Should-read: Xi's Science and Technology Speech Echoes and Updates Deng Xiaoping

Six experts on China’s S&T development untangle the past, present, and future in President Xi Jinping’s recent speech to a gathering of scientists and technology workers. DigiChina Project also translated the speech in full.

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).

Any suggestions or feedback? Let me know at or on Twitter at @jjding99