What Are "Data Systems with Chinese Characteristics"?
Two impactful documents from the State Council and NDRC for 2023 and beyond
As another year begins, I thought it would be worth diving into two tone-setting publications released by the State Council and China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) over the past few weeks. These complementary pieces provide a general overview of how China aims to build a systematic structure to support its data economy (and by extension, the rest of its economy) in the years to come.
But first, here are a few recent highlights in the world of Chinese cloud and data:
Chinese startup Yusur announced that it was launching China’s first ASIC-based DPU (data processing unit) on December 23.
China Telecom held a cloud-based conference last week where it made several announcements related to Tianyi Cloud (which also happens to be providing the framework for China’s “national cloud”):
Tianyi Cloud 5.0, which focuses on cloud-edge fusion, will last from 2023 through 2027. It will then be succeeded by the smart “ubiquitous cloud” of Tianyi Cloud 6.0 from 2028 through 2030.
China Telecom dropped a white paper on the security aspects of Tianyi Cloud.
China Telecom also unveiled its Zijin DPU, which will accelerate data processing efficiency in the cloud. “As the ‘national team’for cloud services,” the company wrote in a recent WeChat article, “Tianyi Cloud was one of the earliest cloud providers to explore DPUs.”
China Telecom: 中国电信发布天翼云安全白皮书 2022天翼数字科技生态大会网信安全生态合作论坛召开
China Telecom (WeChat): 深度解读天翼云紫金DPU，软硬协同造就极致性能！
Building China’s Data Systems and Developing the Digital Economy
Over the last few weeks, Beijing has released several documents outlining the motivations and guidelines for a set of data systems to support the growth of China’s digital economy.
On December 19 last year, the State Council released a list of guidelines, known as the “20 data articles,” for building fundamental data systems. Just several weeks later (on January 1), the NDRC published a document elaborating on the importance of these guidelines.
Notably, the document released by the NDRC (an agency directly under the State Council) refers to the State Council guidelines as a systematic arrangement of the “core pillars” for a set of systems for data. It stresses the need for a “set of fundamental data systems with Chinese characteristics” — a phrase previously used in the State Council’s guidelines.
These two documents can be viewed as companion pieces, each lending more context to the other. Whereas the earlier State Council document is an organized list of points for structuring and implementing its envisioned systems for data administration and regulation, the recent NDRC document is more of a high-level explanation of these systems and the importance behind them. To me, the NDRC document is particularly interesting because it provides valuable framing, both ideological and material, for the data policy guidelines that the State Council laid out last month.
The State Council’s Data Guidelines
Below is a summary of the 20 articles contained in the State Council document:
Amid general state boilerplate, particular emphasis is placed on safeguarding national data security, protecting individuals’ information and trade secrets, and ensuring the development of the data economy. Also mentioned: in-depth participation in the formulation of international digital standards.
These principles stress aspects such as increased regulation, the optimization of data supply, and deeper open collaboration.
Building a system for data property rights
Explore building a system for data property rights, promote the structured separation and orderly flow of data property rights, and link the properties of data factors to create a high-quality data factor supply.
Under a protective system that categorizes and ranks national data, push for the categorized, ranked, and authorized use of data and marketized data circulation and transactions; strengthen systems for protecting the rights and benefits of data factors, and gradually form a set of data property rights systems with Chinese characteristics.
Flow and trade of data
Refine and standardize regulations for the circulation of data, build a set of systems that boost usage and circulation in addition to integrating on-market and off-market transactions, and strengthen on-market transactions. Develop cross-border data circulation and transactions in an orderly manner. Build a safe, risk-proof, and trustworthy data circulation system that can confirm data sources, delimit scopes of use, and trace circulation histories.
Distribution of data factor earnings
Follow the developmental trends of digital industrialization and industrial digitalization and make ample use of the market’s decisive impact in resource allocation; in addition, make better use of the government’s impact. Refine data factor market allocation mechanisms. Expand the scope of data factor market allocation and value- and contribution-based participation in distribution channels. Refine the scheduling mechanisms for the reallocation of data factor earnings and let the people better share the fruits of the development of the digital economy.
Make safety an integral part of the entire data management process. Create management patterns based on collaboration among government, enterprises, and society. Create innovative management methods, clarify each party’s responsibilities and duties, refine self-regulating mechanisms across industries, regulate market development, and shape an efficient structure for data factor management that features government integration.
Increase efforts for overall planning, intensify the implementation of tasks, and bring forth new ideas for supporting policies. Encourage locations and industries that meet the proper conditions to engage in pilot programs for building new systems and implementing technical methods and developmental patterns. Encourage enterprises to innovate internal systems for managing data compliance; always continue to explore ways to improve foundational systems for data.
The Importance of Data Systems for China
To understand the context behind these guidelines, we’ll turn our attention to the NDRC document on systems for data.
A birds-eye view
The opening of the NDRC document frames its focus by citing several points emphasized by Xi Jinping:
The construction of fundamental systems for data is important for China’s overall development and security.
Data property rights, the flow of trade, the distribution of earnings, and the administration of security must be advanced as part of a comprehensive plan.
The construction of a basic data system must be accelerated.
The NDRC document elaborates further upon the motivations for establishing this systematic framework for handling data on a national scale.
In the past ten years, a new wave of information technology — represented by innovations such as big data, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence — has leaped to the forefront. The digital economy is participating in social production and lives to an unprecedented depth and breadth. Notable developments have been made in productive forces for data. Objectively speaking, new developments in productive forces require new improvements in relations of production.Creating a set of fundamental systems for data and making timely adjustments to the relations of production corresponding to the development of digital productive forces are indicative, overall, and strategic measures. This is a major theoretical innovation based on China's national conditions and an accurate grasp of the developmental patterns of the times.
The data factor market
China’s government views data as a factor of production on the same terms as land, labor force, capital, and technology. This was made clear during the fifth session of the 13th National People’s Congress in March 2022, when the session’s work report explicitly mentioned the need to accelerate the development of China’s data factor market:
Improve the management of the digital economy, develop the data factor market, release the potential of data factors, and increase its ability for application. Empower economic development to a greater degree and enrich the lives of the people.
The NDRC document provides some additional context on the state of China’s data factor market:
The development of China’s data factor market is currently in its initial stages. The new distinctive traits of data factors are extremely complex; they pose new challenges to traditional systems and regulations for property rights and circulation. They have become the core factor preventing data factors from revealing their true value; no mature solutions to this issue have come to light, not even on a global scope.
We must earnestly study General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important words on data factors and grasp them in their entirety. We must persist in reform and innovation, in systematic planning. We must take hold of four key relationships — between development and safety, the government and the market, the state and local levels, and tolerance and caution — and plan to build a fundamental set of systems for data.
As 2023 unfolds, we can expect to see more specific policies rolled out for implementing these key ideas.
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National People’s Congress: 政府工作报告
State Council: 关于构建数据基础制度更好发挥数据要素作用的意见
A reference to China Telecom’s status as the leading state-owned enterprise involved in cloud. This was previously discussed in last August’s article about the “national cloud.”
“Productive forces” and “relations of production” should presumably be understood in the Marxist sense (see the link for each term for a refresher).