Technical standards allow products to work together across different jurisdictions and manufacturers. A prime example is the USB cable, which replaced multiple different types of cords. If each country or company uses its own standards, technologies are not easily interoperable with those made by other countries or companies.
Usually, standards are set by an array of industry-leading companies and international industry associations. They can emerge from convention or from the market dominance of a particular supplier. China missed the opportunity to participate in the standards-setting of the first wave of technologies, and the current industrial revolution is giving the nation a chance to remedy that.
A prime example of successful integration of technology from China is the country’s leading role in the standards-setting of 5G. China’s influence on global 5G standards has been mediated through the world-leading status of Huawei, which is China’s national telecoms leader. This has caused the company to become an important contributor in setting technical standards for 5G.
By the 100th birthday of the People’s Republic of China in 2049, China has set the goal to be the world leader in technology. In KANBrief 2/21, the long-term standardisation strategy of China was outlined in an article. With China’s ‘Standards 2035’ strategy, the Chinese organisation SAC has announced the goal of occupying technologically significant standardisation fields by staffing the secretariats with its own experts.
Planned milestones include:
2025: Moving up the global value chain
2035: Mid-table among the leading industrial nations
2049: Leading industrial nation
The research project ‘China Standards 2035’ was the catalyst for this new approach by the Chinese government, which has recognised that standardisation can be used as a strategic tool to assert its claim to leadership. The government is implementing a strategy that will standardise the national system, place experts in management positions at International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and export its own standards to other countries who are involved, including Africa, Asia and Europe; through the ‘New Silk Road’ initiative.
While Germany and the US still lead most secretariats at ISO and IEC, China has caught up very strongly in recent years and is investing immense resources to take over project leadership. Many indicators also show that China is now on the global frontier of Artificial Intelligence in terms of technological development and market applications. The unique technological, market and policy environments that Chinese firms face in the emerging AI sector have given them a window of opportunity to catch up with global leaders rapidly.
With these new global standards, the definition of technology will be shaped for the future. Standards define technology and technology defines the modern world. Furthermore, once standards are established, they are difficult to change and those who are playing catch up cannot compete on the same terms as established players.