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It is evening in Guangzhou, China, and the neon lights of this glimmering megalopolis are just starting to flicker. For the third consecutive year, Fortune is hosting its Global Tech Forum, and the first day was packed with a blast of data and opinions centered on the key question preoccupying attendees: What is the future of U.S.-China relations? Some key moments:
- Blockchain and cryptocurrencies are all the rage this year, partly because there is now an agreement among China watchers that the People’s Bank of China will issue a digital currency to pre-empt any fledgling move by Facebook to launch its ambitious-if-hobbled Libra project. What I learned is that while a so-called “digitized RMB” (the shorthand for China’s currency) is highly probable, it will check few of the boxes of libertarian crypto dreamers who love bitcoin. Instead, it will take control away from the likes of Alibaba and Tencent, whose Alipay and WeChat Pay currently are the “rails” for digital currency in China, and centralize it with the Chinese government.
- Paul Scanlan, a top technologist (and able salesman) for Huawei, claimed that “5G has nothing to do with speed. It is all about money.” His wry assertion is based on the observation that the countries that invest most heavily in 5G (read: China and locations that allow their phone companies to buy from Huawei) will reap huge financial and societal benefits from the faster speeds the latest mobile networks will provide.
- There is a consensus that while the trade war between the United States and China may be cooling down, the battle over technology will not. “The trade war is really a tech war,” says Gan Jie, a professor of finance at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing. She sees China continuing to leverage its advantages in engineering talent, supply chain, and market size to get closer to technological parity with the U.S.
- Investor Enita Pu of Sequoia Capital China made an interesting observation about the “post-cloud” world enabled by 5G networks. Her point was that powerful devices enabled by rapid networks represent a new investment and technology opportunity, one beyond the current phase of using the cloud primarily for centralized software applications. Just as mainframes gave way to PCs, data centers in the cloud will lead to supercharged devices at the “edge.”
I’ll be back tomorrow with concluding thoughts from our Fortune Global Tech Forum.
Watch Fortune.com for complete coverage of the Fortune Global Tech Forum. And, if the time zone suits you, the entire event will be livestreamed.
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This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.