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China may not be better than US, but it is still a major tech power

By Yuan Lanfeng | China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-22 07:54
Logo of Megvii Inc, or Face++, a Beijing-based startup known for its facial recognition technologies [Photo provided to]

When it comes to China's technological prowess, we get to hear two extremely contrasting views. The first is exaggeration. Some irresponsible media outlets tend to praise China's technological capabilities to the sky. They use headlines such as, "The US is shocked! A Chinese scientist has helped China develop chip technology that is way better than those possessed by other countries!", to prove their point.

These articles are written to attract eyeballs, so they often go viral online. But anyone with knowledge about science knows they are ridiculous.

One of the scientists who is often referred to in such articles is my schoolmate Yin Zhiyao, a senior researcher in semiconductors and an entrepreneur. He is so annoyed by these media outlets that he announced through an SMS: "The writers of the articles have never contacted us, nor do they know what we are really doing. Let's make it clear: Our company does not manufacture chips. We only provide one of the necessary devices for the plants that manufacture them. We have repeatedly required certain websites to delete these articles, but they always get published again and again."

The second extreme is reverse exaggeration, with the group indulging in it belittling China's technological achievements. Such articles often claim that most, if not all, of China's achievements are false. At times, they even accuse me of "lying", because I write articles describing the technological progress that China has made.

Actually, the entire world acknowledges the enormous technological progress China has made. For example, Tu Youyou won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for discovering artemisinin, which is used to treat malaria and has saved millions of lives. By developing hybrid rice, Chinese scientists have made major contributions to the efforts to solve the food shortage problem. And in 2016, China launched Micius, the world's first experimental quantum science satellite.

Besides, in 2017, China extracted the muddy silt methane hydrate, which accounts for 90 percent of all fire ice reserves globally but is the most difficult to extract.

There are more areas where China is not No.1 but among the best. For example, China's Beidou is one of the four global navigation systems in the world, with the other three being the US' GPS, Europe's Galileo and Russia's Glonass-K. China is also a member of the manned space flight club with the US and Russia. Besides, Chinese smartphones are getting more and more popular all around the world, challenging iPhones and Samsung smartphones.

Despite all this, there are still many technological fields where China is behind, such as integrated circuits. Earlier this year, Chinese company ZTE faced a crisis after the US Department of Commerce threatened to stop American companies from supplying chips to it.

There are so many technology sectors that it is common for a country to take the lead in some and lag behind in others. My overall evaluation is that the science and technology of China is significantly lower than that of the US, while on the same level with the UK, France, Germany and Japan.

So media outlets should "respect facts" and refrain from highlighting either just China's technological achievements or its shortcomings, as it will split the public into opposing groups with no communication or exchange of views between the two.

The fact is, people who hold extremely opposing views on China's technological achievements only want to hear news that bolsters their false beliefs and never try to dig into facts to get the real picture of China's technological prowess.

The author is an associate professor of chemical physics at the University of Science and Technology of China.

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