Inside Asia Podcast

Clay Chandler: China’s Digital Discontinuity and the Efficacy of the Great Firewall

November 17, 2018

My guest this episode is none other than Clay Chandler, Executive Editor, International for Time Inc, and Asia Editor for Fortune. He’s also the author of the special "Sino-Saturday" edition of Alan Murray's influential Fortune CEO Daily newsletter. If you haven’t subscribed to the newsletter, my advice to you is to do so immediately – exceptional weekly insights from news veterans.

This is a wide-ranging, must listen to conversation that eventually alighted on the topic of Artificial Intelligence superpowers. It raises some interesting—and also pressing—geopolitical questions. For example, should efforts be made to restrict China’s access to overseas markets or are we in a brave new world where data access is fair game for anyone who can access it?

As Chandler points out, contrary to what many imagined, the Great Firewall has proved effective. China has been successful in limiting market penetration of digital giants Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google, otherwise known as FANG. In retrospect, the story we told ourselves about the globalizing power of the web was part of a bigger story about China opening up and engaging with the world. Digital had the power – or so we believed – to eat away at the edges of Communist ideology and make way for new modes of thinking.

None of this happened. As Chandler points out, China moved to capitalize on its digital blockade, and in a two-decade frenzy of innovation and investment, created digital service alternatives that are not only better, but oftentimes superior to anything FANG has to offer.

But is that the whole story. Chandler warns of a potential pivot away from China as multinationals reassess the role the country plays in their global portfolios. If, over the past quarter century Asia, generally, and China, specifically were seen as critical features of a global strategy, that may be about to change. The big question is whether we will still feel that way when more severe economic implications start to kick in and the cost of goods start their precarious climb. How will global consumers feel about China then?

As always, thanks for listening.