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Recap: How China and the U.S. Are Using Big Data to Fight COVID-19, 6.3.20

Recap: How China and the U.S. Are Using Big Data to Fight COVID-19, 6.3.20

How should we embrace tech’s role in face of a pandemic crisis? On June 3, China Institute convened experts Joy Tan (JT), SVP of Public Affairs at Huawei USA, Gary Rieschel (GR), founding managing partner of Qiming Ventures, and Samm Sacks (SS), Cybersecurity Policy and China Digital Economy Fellow at New America, to discuss the role of technology in society at a time when digital surveillance could help save lives at a virtual program called ‘How China and the US Are Using Big Data to Fight COVID-19‘. Explore the event below.

Full Video of the Virtual Program

Quotes from the Virtual Program

Please note that we are featuring a select part of each answer in an attempt to condense the many insightful remarks from our panelists. We have linked each question to its corresponding timestamp in the video to enable our audience to hear the full answers to each question during the program.

What is the impact of the US move to stop US tech companies from doing business with Huawei? (4:34)

JT: Huawei’s business has been impacted since we were put on the Entity List. And now companies around the world, especially chip manufacturers, will have to make a choice: do they go with the Chinese tech sector because of the huge market there? That will reduce revenue and R and D for the US semiconductor industry. Long term there will be significant impact for Chinese companies like Huawei and for US companies.

GR: Everything has become political. It will take China a significant amount of time to replicate the global semiconductor industry and innovation and capital equipment required to do that. But pushing China in that direction doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Huawei, and the Chinese semiconductor industry in general, is dependent today. We’ve pretty much indicated to them that they should focus on becoming less dependent in the future.

SS: Another factor to consider is the way US components will be viewed around the world. The competition between the US in China will play out in Europe, India and emerging markets. One of the side effects is that as the US government operates from a political viewpoint on these things, it creates risk. Other manufacturers around the world that rely on US parts will say, ‘Wait a second, having us parts is now a source of risk. So let’s design out those parts and go with other venders.’

Huawei buys 11B worth of goods and services from US companies. That creates about 40,000 indirect jobs in the US. The situation in the semiconductor industry- the US has the largest market share, about 50%- China is the biggest market and the demand is about 23% of the market. So based on the recent projections, the revenue growth for US chip companies will drop 16% in the next 3-5 years. If they completely ban Chinese companies, the revenue drop will be about 37% in the next 3-5 years. That is about 40,000 indirect jobs in the semi-conductor industry.

What about the law in China that requires Chinese companies to share data with the government? (14:00)

SS: There is a provision in a counterterrorism law that requires “technical assistance” in the case of a national security investigation”. What does “technical assistance” mean exactly? And we can rattle off a dozen laws, regulations and standards (related to data)… There is nothing specifically that says ‘You must provide a backdoor, you must turn over data.’ … I’ve had conversations with a number of different tech companies in China who say ‘there are plenty of examples where we routinely push back on data requests but it’s very hard to come out publicly and say that because then it makes it look like we are resisting our own government.’ Is the Chinese government increasing its ability to control and monitor activity in the tech sector, particularly in the Xi Jinping era. YES. Does this mean there is no such thing as confidential data in China? NO.

What do people in China think about privacy issues as the government uses tech to track their movements? (11:53)

JT: Tan: In general people are ok with the situation. They feel safer when there are stricter controls Chinese cities are so huge and densely populated. They experienced SARS in 2003 and saw how quickly a pandemic spread in Wuhan. This is part of the culture as well. Take facemasks, if people don’t wear facemasks it will seem strange.

GR: The (Chinese) government has been surprised that tech companies know more about their own customers and citizens than they did. They don’t want that to happen again.


JT: The government has never asked Huawei to provide any customer data to them. The company’s founder has said he will not give any information to the government. Our technology should be trusted. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and we need global standards with testing of every vendor.

What happens if we have a bifurcated world? How much sharing is there around big data between China and the U.S.? What happens if there is no more sharing? (37:31)

GR: AI will require collaboration—we will need common rules of the road—you hope there are still entities talking at the government level, and we aren’t at the level we need to be at.

JT: Decoupling will make the cyberworld more vulnerable. When you eliminate one or two key infrastructure players, the remaining equipment venders don’t necessarily have incentive to embrace the leading technology for cyber security. …For the longer term the technology decoupling will also make innovation more expensive…Consumers end up paying the price.

SS: I’m really concerned that both coming from Beijing and from Washington, we’re seeing increased data nationalization. There’s a rise around the world with governments looking to wrap sovereign borders around data — essentially saying my citizens’ data needs to stop at the physical border of my country to make the data secure. As we’re seeing a race to the bottom in nationalizing data, techniques (like homomorphic encryption) are increasingly important to create assurances so data can flow freely so we can get public health benefits of sharing data sets while staying secure.

What impact will increasing negative feelings in both the US and China have on cooperation in science, medicine, technology, data protection? (50:51)

GR: We have to get past the point where the leadership of both countries villainize each other.

SS: It’s a tradition in US politics to bash China to boost your electoral prospects. But right now the stakes couldn’t be more grave. Right now, with Trump going into this election, he has over 100,000 deaths and an economy at a level not seen since great depression. Blaming China for that… Look, both sides are responsible. We had suppression of information in the virus in China the early days that could have saved thousands of lives around the world. But we also had a flat-footed response by the Trump administration in Feb and March. Both of them have deaths on their hands. But for this president to look to get reelected riding the card of popularity for blaming China, what’s at stake here is US democracy.

GR: The US used to approach things from the view of values. So the lens we used to view the world was always a values-based lens. People around the world tend to rely upon that. That’s a discussion that we really lose at our peril. If we lose that frame of reference that is a huge loss for the United States.

JT: We are experiencing a very challenging time between these two countries. There’s a lot of distrust. At the general public level, I saw in NY Asian hate crimes because of COVID-19. These countries are so intertwined. It’s so important for us to continue to overcome whatever challenge we have today, to continue to work together. Huawei is caught in the middle. Sometimes it just feels almost impossible to deliver Huawei’s side of the message. But we just have to have a longer-term view. We need to get people to understand each other more. We need to bridge that understanding gap, the culture gap, the communication gap.

How is Huawei technology being deployed in the fight against COVID-19? (31:13)

JT: Huawei helped set up the 5G infrastructure in the hospitals built in Wuhan and other places. We were able to (use AI) and connect doctors from different cities, with 5G, for remote diagnosis and treatment, leveraging the medical staff from around the country.

Is the U.S. deploying technologies from China to fight COVID-19? (35:47)

GR: You can use AI to use CT-scans to scan lungs for traces of COVID. These are in use around the world — in Italy, Japan, etc — but the U.S. government said we don’t want to use AI from China. We hope that (environment) will change soon.

The Beyond COVID-19 series presented expert perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 on the global order, the restaurant business, and the world economy. Explore our full playlist featuring all four programs, as well as additional select public programs.

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