Watching China: Anatomy of a Suicide
Technological advance in China is rapid, broad in scope and, one might suppose (apparently) incorrectly, of interest to Americans. It is also easily discovered. Subscriptions are not all that expensive to Asia Times, NikkeiAsia, the South China Morning Post, and Aviation Week. The web is awash in tech sites covering everything from operating systems for smartphones to quantum computing. Reading of Chinese efforts, one gets a sense of motion, agility, vitality remarkable in a nation that in 1976, when Mao died, was the poorest nation on earth. America maintains a lead in many things, but seems to be almost asleep and resting on scientific virtuosity that is now lacking.
I hope the snippets below will give a sense of this. In many of the fields involved, such as quantum computing and fusion research, I am not remotely competent to judge their merit, but when they appear in internationally respected journals of physics, they are clearly taken seriously by those who are competent.
- China to Build World’s First Modular Mini-Reactor
“Linglong One is a pressurized water reactor with a capacity of 125 MW – the first small commercial onshore modular reactor or SMR to be constructed in the world. After being launched, the SMR will be able to generate enough power to meet the energy demands of approximately 526,000 households annually.”
- China maintains ‘artificial sun’ at 120 million Celsius for over 100 seconds, setting new world record
Another step in the quest for fusion power. Other countries, inclusing America, are working on this, but there was a time when the US would have been the clear leader. Times change.
- BBC: China’s Chang-e Five Mission returns lunar samples
This was a sophisticated, automated endeavor involving a lunar orbiter, a lander that collected samples, a unit that took the samples back to the orbiter, and a return vehicle that parachuted into Mongolia. It was nontrivial engineering. And: It worked. Note how quickly this and the achievements mentioned in the following have come.
- Chinese Mars Rover Begins Roaming the Red Planet
“China’s Mars rover drove from its landing platform and began exploring the surface on Saturday, state-run Xinhua news agency said, making the country only the second nation to land and operate a rover on the Red Planet.”
Very impressive, like beating Murphy’s Law in straight sets. First, it was an orbiter, circling Mars and doing orbiter things. Second, a lander. Third, a rover. Americans are ahead still in some respexts, but not by much. The riveting thing is how fast the Chinese are catching up.
- Chinese Astronauts Enter Space Station
“Chinese astronauts floated into the country’s new Tiangong space station Thursday, becoming the first people to board China’s outpost in orbit after a successful launch from a military base in the Gobi Desert to start a three-month mission.”
When the International Space Station was being fomented, the Chinese wanted to take part. The US blocked them. So they built their own. The ISS is to be decommissioned in a few years, presumably leaving China as having the only functioning space station. It is notable that all of these off-earth efforts, to include the placing of a lander on the dark side of the moon, have worked.
- China begins construction of its fifth rocket launch site
“BEIJING (Reuters) – A port city in eastern China has launched an ambitious plan to build the country’s fifth rocket launch site, under a longer-term goal to ramp up space infrastructure to meet the demands of an expected boom in commercial missions.”
Why can the Chinese do all of these things at once? Because they have money and many smart engineers. Why do they have money? Because they make stuff and sell it. America doesn’t have money because it spends it all on aircraft carriers, and doesn’t make stuff because it sent its factories to…China. Why doesn’t America have more and better engineers? Because it has a far smaller base of STEM-capable young and because it is dumbing down its schools and universities for the gratification of unproductive minorities. Whose fault is all of this? Why…China’s. Who could doubt it?
- “City Journal: “Identity politics has engulfed the humanities and social sciences on American campuses; now it is taking over the hard sciences. The STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—are under attack for being insufficiently “diverse.” The pressure to increase the representation of females, blacks, and Hispanics comes from the federal government, university administrators, and scientific societies themselves. That pressure is changing how science is taught and how scientific qualifications are evaluated. The results will be disastrous for scientific innovation and for American competitiveness”
- Physics.org: Chinese achieve new milestone with 56 qubit computer
“A team of researchers affiliated with multiple institutions in China, working at the University of Science and Technology of China, has achieved another milestone in the development of a usable quantum computer.”
Not to worry. They can’t innovate.
- The world’s first 100,000-ton deep-sea semi-submersible oil production and storage platform, China’s self-developed “Deep Sea No 1” energy station, has successfully completed installation of all equipment and is expected to start production at the end of June, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) said on Saturday.
Stupidity beyond a certain point becomes entertaining.
- China Launches Largest Self-Built Shield tunneling machine with adorable ‘panda’ outfit
The machine has a diameter of 12.79 meters and weighs 3,000 tons. It will be used in the construction of Jinxiu Tunnel, an essential component of the highspeed railway from Chengdu to Zigong in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, which is known for being a home to pandas.”
The panda is hokey, and I don’t know how the beast compares with Western versions but China won’t be buying these things in the West.
• • •
A recent letter to an engineer friend:
The Tech War
The “tech war” is not a competition of technological prowess between China and America, but an attempt by the US to strangle China’s tech advance by denying it access to technology. It is a complex dance as America tries to block some technology and China tries to develop a substitute. The action is largely in the trenches, out of sight of the public. Being as I am both a lazy scribe and in touch with my inner geek, to give an idea of what is involved I append a letter I recently wrote to an engineer friend:
I wish I had picked your brains, as the only technically literate guy I know in Mexico with knowledge of Chinese technology, about a bunch of telecommunications and related questions. I presume you are familiar with YMTC’s 192-layer dual wafer NAND design. If they get their second fab line into volume production, what effect will it have on Samsung and Micron? Do they have the fab gear? Many have pointed out that the 28-nan node is fine for cars, the IoT, and edge computing but is it adequate for Five G? Goldman says China is on the verge of 14nan volume production, presumably with SMIC, but how does this fit with SMEE’s alleged 28 nm DUV scanner for this fall? Where does China get its RF chips? Sumitomo? I don’t know. Now everyone talks about third-gen semiconductors, silicon carbide and gallium nitride. The advantages are no secret, but what kind of fab line is needed to produce in volume? And some Huawei subsidiary says it has an excimer laser suitable as an EUV light source. Is Gowin really making its FPGAs with YMTC? Alibaba’s famous RISC V chip is in production, but can an open-source ISA compete with .x86 and ARM? I’m running off at the mouth, but this stuff interests me. And I keep finding things lie thes:On tech sites I keep finding things like this:
“5G is another boosting factor. The construction of 5G networks in full swing across China is resulting in the explosive growth of base station RF power amplifiers(PA) containing GaN suitable for high frequency and high power scenarios. In 2019 the number of power amplifiers used by China’s 5G base stations reached 18.432 million, and the number jumped to 73.728 million in 2020, a year-on-year increase of four times”
See you Sunday. Johnito swears he has the world’s finest margaritas and Vi is making refries.
While the foregoing may sound like trivial technogabble, it is actually important. China buys some $350 billion in semiconductors annually. A lot of this goes for unsexy things like memory. If YMTC (Yangtze Memory Technology Company, in Wuhan) can produce flash memory in volume, foreign firms, to include American, are going to lose the Chinese market, oops. Then, the Chinese being Chinese, they will flood the world market with cheap, but good, memory. This is not Fred’s maundering. You can find plenty of industry execs on the web worrying about exactly this. Peril lies in forcing a large country full of high-end engineers to compete with you. The industry knows this. Washington seems not to. Yet.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be, Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About VietNam, and A Grand Adventure: Wisdom's Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about Mexico. Visit his blog.