The World Economic Forum at Davos received a stark warning on China, using technological advancements to undermine liberal democracies in the west.
Financial Times’ Person of the Year, George Soros, said China was using advancements in technology to repress its people, as well as to exert control over Western democracies. The warning comes at a time when Malta has opened its door to one of two controversial Chinese companies highlighted at Davos.
Soros was recognised this year as a ‘standard bearer of liberal democracy,’ having used his fortune to advance the cause around the world.
Describing a situation where there was an undeclared struggle between the West and China over who controls the Internet, Soros made it clear that China aims to be in a position where it completely dictates the rules that will govern the digital economy through its advancements in technology.
The rapidly improving instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can produce are giving repressive regimes an inherent advantage. For them, the improving instruments of control are a help; for open societies they constitute “a mortal danger,” he said.
Recommending a crackdown on technology giants coming out of China such as Huawei and ZTE, Soros urged the US to aggressively counter the threat posed against Western democracy.
“Instead of letting ZTE and Huawei off lightly, [the US] needs to crack down on them,” Soros said. “If these companies came to dominate the 5G market, they would present an unacceptable security risk for the rest of the world.”
The former hedge fund dealers’ comments come at a time when Chinese tech giant Huawei is undergoing intense international scrutiny. Huawei has been banned in a growing number of countries due to concerns over national security even as Malta has opened its doors to the company.
Earlier this month, a director in the Polish subsidiary was arrested on charges of espionage following the arrest of the CFO, as well as the company founder’s daughter, Meng Wanzhou, in December on charges of fraud.
Soros warned those attending the World Economic Forum in Davos of the risks posed by artificial intelligence in the hands of authoritarians.
“I want to call attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes. I’ll focus on China, where Xi Jinping wants a one-Party state to reign supreme,” he said.
He warned that President Xi Jinping is consolidating all available data on citizens and creating a centralised database to socially score each individual based on whether they post a threat to the state.
Apart from welcoming Huawei’s technology in Malta, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has also committed to joining Xi’s ‘One Belt One Road Initiative,’ among the first European countries to do so.
The idea is a network of Chinese-financed roads, pipelines, ports, power plants and other infrastructure across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. It is the Chinese President’s master plan to project Chinese power, influence and trade across much of the world.
It follows the Maltese government’s increasing links with China – on Malta’s energy, and Muscat’s announcement that 5G networks and facial recognition technology may be implemented in the coming months.
Outrage led to the authorities saying they may substitute facial recognition technology, but not much is known except that it is another shady deal involving Sai Mizzi, the Chinese wife of Minister Konrad Mizzi, who is associated with the deal.
It is yet another controversial deal allocated to the family of the only Minister of a European country exposed in the Panama Papers, and still holding office more than two years later.