The boss of Chinese telco China Unicom told reporters he expects his company to start trialling 6G application scenarios in just two years’ time.

Liu Liehong apparently told journalists as much at the recent China Development Forum, as reported by the SCMP. Exactly what an application scenario means is unclear, as is the nature of 6G, so this claim should be taken with a pinch of salt. But the intention is clear: to position China Unicom, and by extension China as a whole, as the global pioneer for 6G development.

The same report cites Chinese Minister of Industry and Information Technology Jin Zhuanglong proclaiming in his speech at the event that China is leading the world in 6G R&D. It also said that Liu confirmed that the commercial launch of 6G in China is expected to commence in 2030, which comes as no great surprise.

Concluding today, the China Development Forum event is apparently the Chinese equivalent of the WEF, where big business and government get together to decide how best to channel public money from the latter to the former. Its motto is ‘Engaging with the world for common prosperity’ and, while it did feature a few Western CEOs, its media list is far from global.

Immediately before it was the Global 6G Conference, held in Nanjing, China. Neither event seemed to issue press releases but the news shared by the conference focused on how important it is that there is global cooperation over the development of 6G. Last month, however, the Conference focused more on China’s technology leadership in its news section.

The most recent piece shared by the Conference was published by Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology. It is headlined ‘Ready, 6G Needs Global Cooperation’ and initially focuses on what 6G might look like – essentially 5G on steroids.

The underlying agenda to the story is revealed by this paragraph: “However, the U.S. clearly indicated that it is competing with China, and its Next G Alliance excludes Chinese companies from participating, which is rather unfortunate. It is of the utmost importance that we all continue pursuing jointly with the global ecosystem so that a unified 6G standard will be created, similar to what was accomplished globally for 5G.”

Recent Chinese state-controlled media, reporting from the China Development Forum, also moaned about US action against China, especially the recent push to ban the popular social media app TikTok. “It is hoped that the US will abandon its zero-sum mentality, stop using unscrupulous means to contain and suppress China, and work with China to push China-US relations to overcome current difficulties and return to a healthy and stable track,” Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang is quoted as saying in a Global Times report.

It’s hard to argue with any of that but all this talk of unfettered collaboration is somewhat disingenuous from a country that reserves the right to unilaterally block companies from operating within its borders, including US giants such as Google and Facebook. While the world would surely benefit if the US and China tried to get on better, the US could reasonably argue that it’s simply playing catch up when it comes to the game of mutual banning.

As things currently stand there seems to be little prospect of cooperation over 6G between the respective spheres of influence of the two superpowers. Right now the smart money is on China winning this nascent 6G race, a prospect that presumably alarms the US. The telecoms world will be hoping at least some of the international R&D channels of cooperation survive the geopolitical sabre-rattling that it seems we’ll be stuck with for some time.

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