Last week saw General Secretary Xi Jinping chair the state-level Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission in Beijing. It was an important meeting focused on the challenge of boosting economic growth under pandemic conditions, in part through a new “all-out” effort on infrastructure. It was important for another reason, perhaps a far more important one for the United States. Xi Jinping once again accelerated Digital China, Beijing’s comprehensive digital strategy designed to help it win the future.
The Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission’s all-out effort on infrastructure is widely defined, but it specifically included the acceleration of New Type Infrastructure (NTI). Easy to miss, the term describes a centrally defined list of digital technologies, numbering in the low dozens, targeted for rapid development and nationwide installation. Many of these technologies will not surprise you: 5G, 6G, or blockchain. But some of them will: a satellite internet of things, a nationally integrated network of big data centers, or an industrial internet with global reach. And the list goes on. This recent acceleration is likely to be on top of an estimated 17.5 trillion yuan (nearly $2.7 trillion) over five years, already budgeted.
NTI is one of Digital China’s major technical missions. There is no standardized English language translation for this Chinese term of art, despite Beijing designating it as such more than two years ago. One might see it in English as simply new infrastructure, or new kinds of infrastructure, and a few other variations. NTI is reported so often in Chinese media that there are now specialized terms for the campaign, like “information aorta,” coined by Xi Jinping himself in 2016. While few outside China recognize these terms, party cadre and Chinese citizens know exactly what they mean because they have been subjected to constant party-led planning, meetings, and education campaigns across the country.
Xi Jinping first accelerated construction of NTI at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic to take advantage of the “strategic window” offered by a distracted world. His intent was to jump-start a stalled economy under Covid-19 through an immense digital infrastructure campaign. The Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission meeting is an expanded version of the same playbook. There is a twist, though. By building NTI “in advance” of users, applications, or even the data it will carry, China will, so the strategy argues, take the lead in growing markets, writing standards, and developing governance mechanisms—a sort of “build it and they will come” field of digital dreams.David Dorman and John Hemmings, “China’s Digital Challenge: Hidden in Plain Sight, Bigger Than You Thought, and Much Harder to Solve,” CSIS, May 11, 2022