ChinAI Newsletter #26: Special Report on China's Civil-Military Fusion -- current status, policy context for military+AI

Welcome to the ChinAI Newsletter!

These are Jeff Ding's weekly translations of writings on AI policy and strategy from Chinese thinkers. I'll also include general links to all things at the intersection of China and AI. Please share the subscription link if you think this stuff is cool. Here's an archive of all past issues. *Subscribers are welcome to share excerpts from these translations as long as my original translation is cited.

I'm a grad student at the University of Oxford where I'm the China lead for the Governance of AI Program, Future of Humanity Institute.

2017 Special Report on China's Civil-Military Fusion

First off, a warm welcome to a new member of the ChinAI translation team. This week's joint translation of key excerpts from this report is the work of myself and Cameron Hickert. Cameron works at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where he researches China’s AI development and other security issues in East Asia. He has studied Mandarin at Tsinghua University, Peking University, and Suzhou University. This report required some seriously dense translation work so shoutout to Cam for the help.

The report was published in January of this year by Rising Investments (鼎兴量子), a boutique private investment bank in China which according to CBInsightshas invested in two companies in 2018 (XIST and Advancechip - both are chip companies). The report's main findings regarding China's military applications of AI support those from a previous White Paper on Civil-Military Fusion featured in ChinAI issue #5
AI military applications still need a lot of time: products for the military industry require "high reliability," so emerging technology like AI will be used as reserves and not be applied until they are mature, and the related technologies for AI (big data, internet) also have a number of security issues.
- Still, the report does emphasize the potential of this space, noting that intelligent weaponry and intelligent robots will have a major impact on the strategy and the tactics of future wars. Additionally, it estimates that by 2025, global defense informatization expenditures could reach 251.3 billion RMB and account for 40% of defense equipment costs
Context matters in this space: report is a good reminder that China didn't even permit non-government capital to enter into national defense S&T industries until 2005; they are still looking for the emergence of a 50-100bn military industry private corporation on the scale of say Lockheed Martin; the degree of civil-military fusion is nowhere near as strong as developed countries --- more than 80% of defense industry informatization construction technology in developed countries comes from private enterprise -- this is a level that China is trying to get to but the first wave of peak civil-miltiary fusion is 3-5 years away


Translation: 2017 China Civil-Military Fusion Special Research Report

Comments on Li Guofei's "A Total Rethinking of Tencent's Strategy"

There's been a lot of reactions and responses to Li Guofei's article. This translation examines the top five comments in response to Li Guofei's article on Tencent (which has now accumulated nearly 100,000 views on his public page alone - other outlets have published his article in full as well). My two favorites:

"Let algorithms analyze your chat data? Ah, fellow countrymen really? For the sake of efficiency and earning money, do we disregard personal data security, privacy rights?"


"To put all the companies in the world into a box such that only one type of company can succeed, such as Facebook, Google, and Bytedance (Toutiao, Douyin) which are companeis that make money by advertising. Using this type of angle to think about Tencent is too one-sided. Because people's needs are both material and spiritual, More of what Alibaba addresses is material (trading data and doing data follows naturally), but more of what Tencent addresses is spiritual (Content - WeChat becomes the national's first choice for information, WeChat's potential is far from being unlocked, its value is underestimated, and this may stem from restraint, and it is not in a rush to realize, games...). The business logic of the material and the business logic of the spiritual are not all the same, and those who make material businesses can use human nature to quickly achieve results...To be a spiritual business, it is more necessary to build a foundational level (what one needs to occupy is the mind), and one needs to be patient. This is what value investors choose to do. The world itself is multifaceted, and successful companies have their own reasons why they are successful, which are not necessarily the same. Tencent and Alibaba have different genes and values, so the paths they choose are undoubtedly different."

Comments on Li Guofei's "A Total Rethinking of Tencent's Strategy"

This Week's ChinAI Links

Chinese Idiom of the Week:  水到渠成 (shui3dao4qu2cheng2) – literally translates as when water comes, a channel is formed; means "when conditions are ripe, success will follow naturally." Was used in the context of one commentator saying Alibaba focuses on the material so data transactions and acquisitions follow naturally.
James Kynge of the Financial Times does a great job of contextualizing last week's translation about Tencent in this article.

A day of reckoning for 90% of Chinese AI startups is coming according to one investor, via South China Morning Post.

Two episodes from the Wǒ Men podcast (a bi-weekly discussion of life in China hosted by Yajun Zhang and Jingjing Zhang) I'd recommend:
One on Gu XI and a Chinese tech community for women called TechieCat
- The other on China's changing media landscape including the evolution to mobile and the rise of self-media 

Thank you for reading and engaging.

Shout out to everyone who is commenting on the translations - idea is to build up a community of people interested in this stuff. You can contact me at or on Twitter at @jjding99