What just happened? Russian President Vladimir Putin and China leader Xi Jinping have announced they intend to make their respective countries world leaders in IT, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence, which may be a difficult goal to achieve given the number of tech-related sanctions and export controls placed on both nations.
Jinping visited Moscow for three days this week for talks with his Russian counterpart. It led to a number of agreements in different areas, listed in a document titled, ‘Joint Statement between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on Deepening the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination in the New Era.’
The document is filled with the sort of language one would expect from the two leaders, including the lambasting of “the hypocritical narrative of so-called ‘democracy against authoritarianism.'” There are also sections relating to the nations’ technology ambitions.
The presidents agreed to form new models of cooperation in industries such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, 5G, digital economy, and low-carbon economy. “Technological sovereignty is the key to sustainability. We propose further improving strategic partnerships in specific industries. By combining our wealth of research capacity and industrial capabilities, Russia and China can become world leaders in information technology, cyber security, and artificial intelligence,” it reads.
It’s difficult to imagine either nation becoming world leaders in these fields, given their limited ability to use overseas tech. Russia, of course, has been subject to numerous sanctions since it invaded Ukraine over one year ago; IBM, Nvidia, Intel, and many others have stopped selling their products in the country.
Russia previously made the bold claim that it would be investing in domestic chip development, manufacturing, and personnel training, with the intention of producing chips using a 28nm node by 2030. Presently, Russia’s inability to source reliable semiconductors has forced it to use components taken from dishwashers and refrigerators in its tanks.
Sanctions against Russia saw it turn to the Chinese gray market for its semiconductor imports. Unfortunately for Putin, almost half of them are defective.
China’s chipmaking-tool sanctions are well documented. Restrictions introduced in October are designed to cap the country’s logic chips at the 14-nanometre node, DRAM at 18nm, and 3D NAND flash at 128 layers. The US says this will prevent China from developing semiconductors for military applications, including supercomputers, nuclear weapons modeling, and hypersonic weapons.
Despite the restrictions, a recent think tank report claimed that China leads the US in the research of 37 out of 44 critical technologies.
Elsewhere, the Russia-China document states that “Both sides support the United Nations Ad Hoc Committee to develop a comprehensive international convention against the use of information and communication technologies for criminal purposes.” Again, this seems a bit surprising, given that the majority of state-sponsored hackers originate from these two countries.
In related news, the Kremlin earlier this week told officials involved in Putin’s 2024 re-election campaign to get rid of their iPhones as a safety precaution against western agencies. Alternatively, they could give the handsets to “the kids.” It seems the Kremlin believes Cupertino’s phones are easier to hack and more susceptible to espionage by western spies than other smartphones.