(p. B1) The Trump administration gave ZTE, which employs 75,000 people and is the world’s No. 4 maker of telecom gear, a stay of execution on Thursday. ZTE, which had violated American sanctions, agreed to pay a $1 billion fine and to allow monitors to set up shop in its headquarters. In return, the company — once a symbol of China’s progress and engineering know-how — will be allowed to buy the American-made microchips, software and other tools it needs to survive.
China’s technology boom, it turns out, has been largely built on top of Western technology.
The ZTE incident, as it is called in China, may be the country’s Sputnik moment. Like the United States in 1957, watching helplessly as the Soviet Union launched the first human-made satellite, many people in China now see how far the country still has to go.
“We realized,” said Dong Jielin, an adjunct professor at the Research Center for Technological Innovation at Tsinghua University in Beijing, “that China’s prosperity was built on sand.”
. . .
(p. B3) . . . many in China — and many cheerleaders of the Chinese tech scene — . . . found themselves in a feedback loop of their own making. The powerful propaganda machine flooded out rational voices, said Ms. Dong of Tsinghua University. The tech boom fits perfectly into Beijing’s grand narrative of a national rejuvenation. Innovation and entrepreneurship are top national policies, with enormous financial backing from the government. Even now, some articles critical of China’s lagging semiconductor industry have disappeared from the internet there.
And it wasn’t just Chinese people. Michael Moritz, the American venture capital investor, warned that China “is leaving Donald Trump’s America behind.” Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder, wondered how long it would take for China to overtake the United States. Three to four years, he concluded.
The boom kept many from asking hard questions. They promoted China’s surge in patent filings without looking at whether the patents were any good. They didn’t ask why China still imports 90 percent of its semiconductor components even though the industry became a national priority in 2000.
For the full commentary, see:
Li Yuan. “China’s Sputnik Moment.” The New York Times (Monday, June 11, 2018): B1 & B3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 10, 2018, and has the title “THE NEW NEW WORLD; ZTE’s Near-Collapse May Be China’s Sputnik Moment.”)