Playing Poker

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As the Internet grew and developed in the 1980s, China (being a fraction of the size it is today) saw the need to control the flow of information available within its borders so created the “Great Firewall of China” which we all know about today. As a result, American companies like Google, Amazon, Ebay, Facebook, Youtube, Apple and Twitter, who were unable to comply with China’s censorship rules, were replaced within China by local Chinese startups who have grown into the big household names we know today: Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Wechat, Weibo, Huawei and now Tiktok.

Until relatively recently, the only major problem caused by China’s firewall was that it forced foreign companies to familiarise themselves with new local platforms and brands when doing business in China. This was manageable. But now we have the problem that these big chinese companies are going global and its raising concerns about data security and Chinese influence.

The problem we face today is nicely summed up by the Interpreter: “China’s internet regulations – although initially driven by the perceived need to control the internet within its borders – have created a series of barriers that have actively placed most foreign internet firms at a disadvantage, making room for the growth of domestic tech titans like Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance. As these firms have become international, they have benefitted from the scale and resources provided by a large and closed domestic market, while also entering the more open global digital environment. In other words, China’s tech firms are playing a poker game in which everyone else’s cards lie face-up on the table, while they continue to hold theirs close to their vest. In such a situation, all other players at the table have little choice but to hide their own cards as well”.

With the US threatening to ban all Chinese technology companies operating in the US, and the pressure being placed on western allies to follow suit, we’re going to be hearing a lot more on this topic in the months and years ahead.


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