This post is based on a talk on the panel titled Venturing China’s Globalized Internet at the 2023 International Communication Association. (ICA) preconference. The panel was organized by the contributors of recently published books on the political economy of China’s internet giants: Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent in the Global Media Giants book series. I revised my original talk to provide a little more context drawing from my 2022 book Baidu: Geopolitical Dynamics of the Internet in China. Baidu was primarily a search engine company, but it has diversified its business into artificial intelligence (AI) and AI-driven industrial sectors including self-driving or autonomous cars (AVs), Electric Vehicles (EVs), cloud computing, smart devices etc.
Today, it is extremely challenging to engage in a reasonable debate about the tech sector related to China – a major geopolitical flesh point between the US and China. In the Western mainstream media, the discussions are persistently framed under the themes of national security, spying, censorship, human rights, and authoritarianism vs liberal democracy, but these narrow and self-interested analytical frameworks obfuscate the underlying pollical economy of the Chinese internet industry which is deeply integrated into the US-led global capitalist order.
In turn, the often-used term “decoupling” needs to be handled carefully. “Decoupling” actually is embedded with a longer process of coupling. The Chinese search giant Baidu, which represents the internet industry in China, sheds light on this decades-long enmeshment – and its implications for current capitalist dynamics. Thus, I’ll talk about Baidu in the context of coupling, geopolitical competition, and “decoupling.”