What China can Teach us on Research
During his report to the 19th CPC National Congress, President Xi Jinping disclosed his plans for the future of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA): “We will make it our mission to see that by 2035, the modernization of our national defense and our forces is basically complete; and that by the mid-21st century our people’s armed forces have been fully transformed into world-class forces.”
The Chinese media announced: “As chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), Xi is tasked with ensuring the world’s largest military take a ‘crucial leap’ in the new era from being simply large to being strong.”
A few weeks earlier, The South China Morning Post wrote about ‘China building giant facial recognition database to identify any citizen’.
The project is to achieve an accuracy rate of 90%, though it faces formidable technological hurdles and there are serious concerns about privacy. The powerful facial recognition system should be able to identify 1.3 billion citizens within three seconds.
Chen Jiansheng, of the department of electrical engineering at Tsinghua University told the Hong Kong newspaper that the government will use this system to track wanted suspects as well as for public administration.
In April 2107, the McKinsey Global Institute published a report, ‘Artificial Intelligence: Implications for China’ which describes the importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI): “the idea that computer systems can perform functions typically associated with the human mind, has gone from futuristic speculation to present-day reality.”
The report further elaborated: “Thanks to advances in data collection and aggregation, algorithms, and processing power, computer scientists have achieved significant breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. Where computer systems once had to be programmed to execute rigidly defined tasks, they can now be given a generalized strategy for learning, enabling them to adapt to new data inputs without being explicitly reprogrammed.”
In the years to come, the PLA plans to benefit from AI to enhance its efficiency ‘to win wars’ and reach the objectives fixed by Xi Jinping.
Elsa Kania from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) noted in a recent report: “China is no longer in a position of technological inferiority relative to the United States but rather has become a true peer (competitor) that may have the capability to overtake the United States in AI,” she adds: “it could alter future economic and military balances of power.”
The main use of AI is part of the in-depth reforms of China’s defence forces for a wider ‘integration’ of the different services which are now five. At par with the PLA Ground Forces, Navy and Air Force, are the PLA Rocket Force (formerly, the second artillery) and the Strategic Support Force (SSF), a game changer, according to all observers. The use of AI will come under the umbrella of the PLASSF.
The Diplomat noted a few months back: “While the Chinese PLA’s new SSF is a critical force for dominance in the space, cyber, and electromagnetic domains …the SSF’s function of ‘strategic support’, namely information support, will be equally vital to the PLA’s capabilities to fight and win wars.”
Apart from restructuring the commands, Xi Jinping also wants to give a boost to the Research and Development (R&D) to catch up with the United States in terms of new weaponry in the decades to come.
A couple of weeks ago, the Chinese Central Television (CCTV) broadcast a TV documentary about the ten aircraft carriers planned by China. Jane’s Review reported that Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) will “be fitted onto the second of the country’s indigenously built aircraft carriers, commonly referred to as the Type 002,” the system is similar to the EMALS used by the United States.
A lot of money is also poured into the Hypersonic Vehicle Technology Project; available data shows that China has started developing conceptual and experimental hypersonic flight vehicle technologies such as hypersonic cruise vehicles (HCV) capable of maneuvering at Mach 5 speeds (6,150 km/h), flying in near-space altitudes. It could be another game changer.
Cutting-edge research in the field of quantum communication (which will make communications un-hackable) is also undertaken by the Chinese scientists. The Academy of Military Sciences explicitly asserted: “Space and cyberspace increasingly constitute important battlefields. A new type of five-dimensional battle-space of land, sea, air, space, and cyber is currently taking shape, which is wide in scope, hyper-dimensional, and combines the tangible and intangible.”
The list of new fields of research is long.
China is for example working on an unmanned combat aerial vehicle named the ‘Black Sword’, which could one day compete with the best US drones.
New materials such as smart materials and structures, high-temperature superconducting technologies, and highly efficient energy materials technologies.
Beijing has a medium and long-term programme which aims at transforming China into an ‘innovation-oriented society’ by 2020; the plan defines China’s leading-edge technologies.
Beijing has also ‘megaprojects for assimilating and absorbing’ technology; an import substitution action plan in order to create indigenous innovations through ‘co-innovation’ and ‘re-innovation’ of foreign technologies.
In all probability, the Israeli Heron drone which recently fell in Chinese hands in Chumbi Valley in Tibet will soon be ‘assimilated and absorbed’.
Xi Jinping has a Dream, the great rejuvenation of Chinese nation: “It is an unstoppable historical trend that won’t be diverted by the will of any individual country or person,” asserts China Military Online.
India has something to learn from the Middle Kingdom in terms of looking into the future. It is however doubtful if the Indian public sector has the dynamism to catch up with China. The time has perhaps come for the Modi Sarkar to start a new scheme, ‘Research in India’ and involve the private sector. AI could be the first field of research.