June 16, 2020

China’s Health Silk Road Is a Dead-End Street

By Kristine Lee and Martijn Rasser

With little fanfare, the National People’s Congress—the annual convening of China’s top legislature and the country’s premier political event—rubber-stamped a $1.4 trillion infrastructure six-year spending plan on May 28, with fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks as its backbone. Undeterred by the devastation that the pandemic has wrought on China and countries globally, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has stepped up with full force—by way of its tech champions—with a vision of what a post-pandemic world powered by 5G could look like.

On Jan. 25, as China was still reeling from COVID-19, China Mobile launched 5G base stations to provide the world a high-definition live broadcast of the construction of the Huoshenshan hospitals at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan. It was an act of deft public diplomacy, as Chinese-state media platforms such as People’s Daily telegraphed the content overseas. The livestream garnered more than 490 million views online, as many marveled at the hospital almost completely built in just 10 days.

Huoshenshan hospital staff then used 5G networks to connect front-line health care workers and patients to medical experts in Beijing’s remote consultation platforms, while 5G-enabled robots took patients’ vitals to minimize human contact. Beyond the walls of the hospital, an army of hundreds of driverless vehicles sanitized the streets of Wuhan. Meanwhile, 5G-powered drones dispatched face masks in Beijing. While it is unclear the extent to which these technologies actually aided the government’s response to the crisis, the resulting visuals were compelling and bolstered a narrative of Chinese technological leadership.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.

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