The New World Dis-order and China
On October 7th, the militant Palestinian group Hamas launched an unprecedented assault on Israel. Today, Israel is at war with Hamas. We have all followed this escalation very closely.
The world now has two major wars to deal with. The war in Ukraine has little comparison to the war in Gaza, but what is noticeably different is the reaction of the world on the response of the country under attack. The Western world is far less supportive this time. Washington stands less united with its allies on supporting Israel at any cost. Historical provocations are openly broadcasted and debated. Palestinians in Gaza are seen as victims as much as Israeli.
This war is much less black and white, which means the world is increasingly in disorder.
In response to the invasion of Ukraine, the West launched far reaching economic sanctions on Russia. In the Global South, it sparked a growing distrust in the US dollar as the currency of preference for trade. A process of de-dollarization has begun. Saudi-Arabia, Argentina, Brazil and more nations are enhancing trade outside of USD realm. The financial world order is in distress.
On the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing held its third Summit in October. It was attended by 130 countries, but absent were the representatives from the West. China has signed BRI deals with over 150 countries, wooing mostly the Global South to help them close the infrastructure gap with the West. China guides the developing world to pursue a new multi-polar world order of international governance.
To counter China’s rising leadership in many critical technologies, Washington has launched an extensive technology war on China. This motivated China to double down on innovation and seek new markets in the Global South. Ian Bremmer calls this the start of a technopolar world. A new digital world order is putting nation states and geopolitical powers at risk.
The war in Gaza could trigger a wider, uncontrolled regional war in the Middle East in which both Western and Arab nations could be pulled into. In the Global South, which consists of 50 Muslim-majority countries, the anti-US sentiment is growing. Washington’s initial silence of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and US veto against a UN security council resolution to call for a ‘humanitarian pause’ exposes for many a double standard towards the equal value of human life. A new ‘morality’ world order alternative is conveniently being put forward by China under the Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI).
Janet Yellen, the US treasury secretary, said that the US can certainly afford to support wars on two fronts. 100 billion USD is what Biden is asking for this time. Considering America’s 33,7 trillion USD debt and 3 trillion USD annual deficit, releasing new budgets for proxy-wars will get harder in an election year. Could the US still fund a third war in Taiwan or in the South-China Sea? In 2022, the war in Ukraine delayed the US pivot to Asia. This delay is about to extend much longer should the war in the Middle East drag on or expand regionally.
A case can be made that this new US vacuum in Asia creates a window for China to ‘reunite’ Taiwan with the mainland. A counterargument can be made that China has now extra time to tackle its domestic economic problems first instead of fighting a risky war that could collapse the whole world economy and drag China along. The current two wars are likely reassuring Beijing in their belief that the East is rising and the West is in decline. A war over Taiwan would be counterproductive for China towards a natural evolution of an eastern-centric world order in the making. However, the elections in Taiwan and US in 2024, could possibly lead to an escalation and miscalculation.
This month, at a campaign reception, Biden said that the post-war world order has worked out for 50 years, but ran out of steam, and so a new world order is needed where America has a real opportunity to unite the world in a way it has never been in a long time. Since 1972, the Global South also wanted a New International Economic Order (NIEO) based on sovereign equality, sustainable development, and biological diversity. But the Global North has always voted against the NIEO (see map below). Everyone seems to want a new world order, but the divide between the North and the South, or the East and the West, on who should create or lead this New World Order differs completely. In the meantime, we live in a very perilous New World Disorder – The Twilight Zone.
CHINESE INNOVATION NEWS – OCTOBER 2023
- Chinese scientist makes history by winning the US’ top physics prize
- China tests next gen ‘waverider’ hypersonic technology
- China builds world’s largest deep-sea telescope to hunt for cosmic neutrinos
- Chinas new rules on data flows signal a shift away from security toward growth
- China’s YMTC makes world’s most advanced memory chip
- Chinese scientists unlock potential of chip building block that could boost AI
- Generative AI updates from China
(Click the links in titles below to read a larger news article on each topic)
A Chinese scientists’ groundbreaking work on the next generation of electronics was recognised with prestigious American Physical Society award. The Condensed Matter Physics Prize was awarded jointly to Xue Qikun and Harvard University’s Ashvin Vishwanath.
Xue has been working to synthesise topological insulators – a class of materials that exists in a recently discovered state of quantum matter – for the development of next-generation, low-energy consumption electronics. Unlike conventional materials, a topological insulator’s interior insulates while its surface conducts electricity without heat loss, making it ideal for electronics and applications of the future.
We shouldn’t underestimate the innovation leadership position China has acquired in the field of advanced materials. In our March newsletter, I mentioned ASPIs research paper on Chinese technology leadership. The paper found that China is leading in all five of the critical advanced material technologies. As for Nanoscale materials and coatings, China is heading towards global monopoly status. Regarding smart materials, advanced composite materials and novel metamaterials, China is very much in the lead too.
This breakthrough was hailed by many Chinese as the first Nobel Prize-level physics experiment conducted in a Chinese lab. Xue said “My number one mission now is to help China train the most competitive talent, so they can use science to build the country into a powerhouse”.
This brings us to the next advanced materials breakthrough in Hypersonic technology…
Chinese scientists have announced the successful test of a surface material for hypersonic vehicles that can remain intact after a long flight which was always thought impossible to create. This achievement means China has pushed ahead of the US in the hypersonic race as America continues to struggle with thermal issues.
This Chinese new thermal protection technology could help in the development of a generation of reusable hypersonic vehicles with longer range and faster speed; all whilst shielding sensitive electronics, making target identification and communication possible throughout the hypersonic flight.
To the military, these hypersonic aircrafts can carry out reconnaissance missions, drop bombs, intercept stealth aircraft, or transport a small group of special ops to any location on the planet in less than two hours. In such an extreme environment, molecules in the air would normally break down and start a chemical reaction with surface material. The ‘waverider’ technology is almost ready for full operational environment.
In 2021, Chinese military flew a hypersonic vehicle around the globe, surprising the US military with technology reportedly “defying the laws of physics”.According to the Pentagon, China has conducted more hypersonic test flights in a year than the US did in a decade. China is winning the Hypersonic race for now. China’s innovation leadership is not only about a state of matter, but also a matter of the State security.
Scientists in China have started building the world’s largest (a diameter of 4km) neutrino telescope in the South China Sea to be completed by 2030. They hope it will help to solve the century-old puzzle of the origin of cosmic rays while exploring the extreme universe.
Cosmic rays from deep space constantly bombard the Earth’s atmosphere. Because they are mostly protons, cosmic rays are charged and their paths deflected by magnetic fields. As a result, they cannot be used to locate the source. However, cosmic rays also contain neutrinos – a family of elusive subatomic particles that are electrically neutral - that can serve as a powerful tool to reveal the origins of cosmic radiation.
The Tropical Deep-sea Neutrino Telescope (Trident) array will be anchored to the seabed 3.5km below the Western Pacific Ocean near the equator, where it will scan the surrounding seawater for the flashes of light generated when cosmic neutrinos collide with water molecules. It will consist of 1,200 vertical strings of sensors. Each string will carry 20 high-resolution digital optical modules to measure the light produced when neutrinos and hydrogen or oxygen atoms in water molecules collide.
The location is ideal as the seabed is flat and currents flow gently a few hundred metres above the sea floor. Trident will be vastly more sensitive than existing neutrino telescopes – with up to 10,000 times the capability of the IceCube observatory at the South Pole and five times’ greater sensitivity than KM3NeT in the Mediterranean.
The telescope will also help to test space-time symmetries, search for quantum gravity, and indirectly search for dark matter. China is looking deep into darkness to find light.
I found this article interesting as one of the main complaints from foreign companies and investors was that China’s new data laws had scared them away from the Chinese market. Foreign cross-border data-heavy companies are leaving, slowly divesting or decoupling from China. American consulting firms are now even calling China “uninvestable”.
A new set of draft rules issued by China would, if finalized, roll back a key part of China’s data regulatory regime that was on course to force a disruptive data decoupling between China and the rest of the world. The new rules may signal that Beijing could put substance behind its rhetorical commitment to helping the private sector, even at the expense of reducing control and visibility over an area it considers crucial to national security. Here some new set of rules:
a. The transfer of data falling under broad categories like international trade, academic cooperation, transnational manufacturing, and marketing would no longer require prior approval before transferring overseas.
b. With regard to yet undefined “important data,” data transfer approval would only be required once authorities either explicitly define what categories of data constitute “important data” or if firms are directly notified their data are “important,” thus reducing the chilling effect of this part of the rules.
c. The rules lift the pre-approval requirement that firms must go through a CAC security assessment, standardized contracts, or passing personal information certification, at least for outbound transfers of some personal data, such as that involved in contracts, travel, human resources, and emergencies.
If implemented as written, the relaxation in the draft significantly lowers, but does not eliminate data regulatory risk, because it further defers a decision on what constitutes “important data”. This is China’s grey zone…nothing new.
Nevertheless, it is a positive signal that business concerns led China to scale back a major security rule in a sensitive area. Hopefully it becomes a trend as the author concludes.
In April’s newsletter, I wrote about Yangtze Memory Technologies (YMTC) top-secret development of a 3D-NAND flash memory chip with their patented “Xtacking 3.0” architecture using China sourced equipment. I wrote that it would be interesting to see what YMTC would announce in August at Flash Memory Summit in California to see if they succeeded in large scale production of YMCA’s 232-layer X3 9070.
The question is now answered.
YMTC’s memory chip, found in a solid-state drive launched quietly in July, shows that the manufacturer has continued to develop advanced technology despite being hampered by sanctions after it was placed on the US Commerce Department’s Entity List. China’s leading memory chip producer, was able to manufacture the “world’s most advanced” 3D NAND memory chip known to be in a consumer device in a “surprise technology leap
Like the innovation revealed in the Huawei Mate 60 Pro’s Kirin 9000s processor (which used the SMIC 7-nm (N+2) process) (newsletter September), evidence is mounting that China’s momentum to overcome US trade restrictions and build its very own domestic semiconductor supply chain is more successful than expected.
The world’s first fully system-integrated memristor chip has been unveiled by a team of Chinese scientists who believe it could not only make artificial intelligence smarter, but also more time and energy efficient. They said it believed it could enable on-chip learning that is 75 times more energy efficient than current machines designed for AI processing.
Memristor-based computing technology has recently received considerable attention because of its potential to overcome the computational limitation set by the separation of memory and processing.
A resistor is an element of a circuit that is able to limit the flow of energy by providing resistance to electrons flowing through. A memristor – a contraction for memory resistor – is able to remember the most recent value of current that was passed through it when it was turned on, meaning future resistance can depend on prior history. As such, it is capable of improvement-based learning, or maintaining pre-acquired knowledge when something new is learned. This differs from transfer learning, which focuses on moving to a new set of data and can sacrifice the accuracy of prior data.
To train artificial neural networks, which mimic how human neurons pass on data in the brain, conventional hardware requires a great deal of energy and time to move data between the computing and memory units. Memristor-based computing is able to reduce the energy required for a task by allowing the learning to occur on-chip with no external memory source.
Chinese scientists were able to demonstrate on-chip learning with multiple tasks, including image classification, motion control, and audio recognition. The memristor-based neuro-inspired computing chip could facilitate and accelerate the development of edge AI devices that could adapt to new scenes and users.
Chinese are living on the edge!
7. China Generative AI updates
In previous newsletters, I wrote about Generative AI breakthroughs in China. This hot topic however could be a newsletter on its own as the pace of GenAI innovation news is exploding. For now, as last topic in this monthly newsletter I will share a list of noteworthy Generative AI newsflashes coming from China.
Baidu's founder and CEO Robin Li recently demonstrated Ernie Bot 4 at the Baidu World 2023 conference in Beijing. He showcased the bot’s prowess in understanding complex questions, generating pictures and handling basic arithmetic. “Ernie Bot has completed a series of significant updates in its abilities of understanding, prompting, reasoning and memorizing,” Li said. “Its generalized abilities are by no means inferior compared to GPT-4.” He also announced a new enterprise-grade AI tool to help businesses write market analysis reports.
Zhipu recently open sourced its bilingual (Chinese and English) conversational AI model ChatGLM-6B, which is trained on six billion parameters and claims to be able to carry out inferences on a single consumer-grade graphics card, significantly lowering the cost of running an LLM. It also has an open-sourced general-purpose variant model trained on 130 billion parameters, the GLM-130B.
Baichuan is a brainchild of Wang Xiaochuan, founder of the Sogou search engine. It has reached a valuation of over $1 billion. The startup introduced four open-source LLMs (large language models) and ongoing efforts to develop two proprietary platforms. It spans from 7 billion parameters to 13 billion parameters, all available for commercial utilization at no cost.
Chinese AI start-up Baichuan claims to beat Anthropic, OpenAI with model that can process 350,000 Chinese characters
Baichuan2-192k LLM has a context window that can handle around 350,000 Chinese characters. Amazon’s backed Anthropic Claude 2 can handle a context window of 75,000 English words. The context window of the Baichuan model is said to be 14 times bigger than that of OpenAI’s GPT-4-32k. A larger context window makes an AI model more useful to businesses that need to process and generate long text on a daily basis, such as the legal, media and finance industries.
Oppo is developing its own LLM named AndesGPT. Oppo will need to solve the computing power challenges needed to run LLMs locally on a mobile phone.
iFlytek Spark 3.0 has outperformed GPT-3.5 in six abilitiesincluding text generation, logic reasoning, math and coding, and is set to rival GPT-4 by the first half of 2024. It scores roughly the same as GPT-3.5 within an English language context. iFlytek is on the US entity list, and therefore runs Spark 3.0 entirely on domestic computing platforms, and intends to train future versions of its LLM on Huawei’s AI chip ecosystem.
Tongyi Qianwen 2.0 has hundreds of billions of parameters making it one of the world's most powerful AI models by that metric today. It outperforms OpenAI’s ChatGPT 3.5 and Meta Platforms’ Llama2, and has narrowed its gap with ChatGPT 4. Alibaba, which runs 80% of China’s tech companies servers and half of China LLM companies servers launched eight AI models for the entertainment, finance, healthcare and legal industries.
Tencent said it has seen improvements in many of its services that include conferencing app Tencent Meeting and web-based word processor Tencent Docs, along with its online advertising business and WeChat search. Clients from a variety of fields – including retail, education, finance, medicine, and media – are leveraging the Hunyuan model.
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