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China, 5G, and Dominance of the Global “Infosphere”
A billboard reading '5G is here' on day one of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) Shanghai 2019 at the Shanghai New International Expo Center on June 26, 2019. (Visual China Group via Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

China, 5G, and Dominance of the Global “Infosphere”

William Schneider

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Introduction

Modern consumer society has rapidly evolved from domination by “things” to domination by information. Once upon a time, for example, a car was an object for personal transportation in which anything more than basic information about speed and fuel level came from and through the driver. Now, the automobile itself provides and processes information with which drivers interact at a much richer level. Back-up cameras, blind spot and lane drift warning lights, hands-free wireless telephony, and GPS have transformed the driving experience fundamentally, even ahead of the truly revolutionary era of self-driving cars. A large and growing fraction of the world’s day-to-day life of individuals, objects, and institutions will be indelibly stored with an electronic “footprint.” The intelligence value of this information from a national security perspective exclusively accessed through a modern communications system dominated by China – 5G – is immense and profoundly threatening.

The new dominance of information is simultaneously bewildering and promising. Moreover, as rapid as the pace of development has been over the past decade, it will soon quicken—with broad implications for almost every aspect of human life. An important aspect of this shift has been the convergence of rapidly developing and mutually reinforcing technologies into an infosphere that will incorporate almost all information-based communications and data services in the global information infrastructure.

Not coincidentally, an integrated infosphere meets aspirations held by the People’s Republic of China to dominate and control the global information infrastructure. Beijing’s investments in 5G reflect an understanding that this technology is the gateway to control the world’s information infrastructure and growing realm of 5G-dependent technologies. A Chinese-dominated infosphere is, in fact, the “digital road” component of its Belt-and-Road-Infrastructure (BRI). While U.S. policymakers have yet to fully grasp the implications of this emerging infosphere, the components below reflect the enabling dimensions that support China’s effort to dominate the global information infrastructure.

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