“New Type Infrastructure” is a critical feature of China’s comprehensive digital strategy, Digital China, and has been for years. It has been defined as such at the state level, it has been the topic of innumerable leadership speeches over past years including by Xi Jinping himself, it is under national level implementation right now, and it is the subject of continuous public education campaigns for Chinese citizens and Party cadre. Outside China, one is hard pressed to find a single mention of the term. I have no real explanation for this.
New Type Infrastructure (NTI) is one of three major technical missions supporting Digital China (few have heard of the other two missions either). These three technical missions roughly equate to the “means” in Western strategy construction, in this case, the technical resources necessary to bring Digital China to fruition. For NTI, this includes the digital transformation of traditional infrastructure as well as the construction of new digital infrastructure, both of these on a national scale. Although this immense campaign has been touched on in Western media, it is hard to spot without context, and even armed with the proper context you will only find a handful of reports. In short, you are pretty much on your own.
Let me put this another way. The U.S. and China are engaged in a strategic competition, a major component of which involves competition over technology. China has developed a comprehensive digital strategy over the past twenty years designed in part to win that competition. Right now, with only a small amount of effort, you could download an official Chinese-language document or even a PowerPoint briefing laying out the “ends, ways, and means” of that strategy. Despite this, most Americans have never heard of it. I frequently ask myself if key leaders in Washington have been briefed on it. I fear I know the answer and truly hope I am wrong.
Only to illustrate how much we don’t know, let me highlight just how common it is for Chinese media of all types to discuss Digital China, New Type Infrastructure, and other components of China’s digital strategy. These are not closed discussions just for engineers or Party cadre (they already know the strategy). These are Party efforts to educate every single Chinese citizen on why Beijing has literally “digitalized” China’s path to national rejuvenation. If you follow Party theory, you know this kind of language is a big deal, reflecting the level of seriousness assigned to this task.
For instance, just today economist and author Jiang Libing answered the online question, “Why is Blockchain considered a New Type Infrastructure?” The photo introducing him and his question in a Sohu news post concludes this blog. His question sounds very technical, and perhaps it is, but his answer was not. He explained that a state-level agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, designated blockchain as New Type Infrastructure over two years ago. He explained the function of New Type Infrastructure. He explained the sub-categories of New Type Infrastructure and where blockchain fits into these and why. He explained the integrative role of blockchain as a horizontal, connected NTI technology. And finally, he compared “horizontal” NTI technologies like blockchain with “vertical” NTI technologies like 5G that readers may be more familiar with.
These sorts of lessons, in essence firing up popular support for Digital China, have been going on quite publicly for years. But for the most part, this same information hasn’t reached our shores. For me, this is a problem that screams for a solution. So, let me conclude with this question: If we are serious about how to manage strategic competition with China, shouldn’t we all have a basic understanding of one of China’s core competitive strategies driving that competition? The strategy is not secret (or at least major portions of it are public), but pulling together all the pieces of Digital China to build our fullest understanding of the strategy will be a major task requiring a combined effort by a variety of technical and analytical skill sets. Let’s get started now.