Heather BOYLES

Its desire to take the lead in scientific research is spurring China to increase its global connectivity.

China is supporting academic research on a huge scale, and investment in network infrastructure is playing an important role, enabling Chinese researchers to collaborate with peers elsewhere in the world. The aim of this investment, led by the Chinese Academy of Science, is to ensure that China takes a lead in science and technology. Chinese officials know that broadband connections can help to bridge the rural-urban and east-west divide in educational resources, but currently the government is focusing its investment largely on high-end scientific research.

Operating under a five-year “guidance” (rather than plan), the Chinese science community is building internal as well as international networks for research. The academic community has good network infrastructure within China, but connectivity to and from China has been a problem. The new academic networks should solve that problem. In essence, they comprise a separate Internet, connecting national research and education networks with peers overseas. Unlike commercial Internet providers, they do not have to concentrate their efforts on serving as many users as possible.

There are a number of organizations involved in these developments. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, China Education and Research Network runs CERNET, China’s first and largest national academic network and currently the second-largest network system in China. CERNET serves universities, institutes, colleges, and schools across China . China’s other major academic network is CSTNET—the network of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. TEIN2 is a multination network that CERNET is participating in as the network operations center (NOC); it will link ten Asian countries. Internet2 is a U.S.-based noncommercial consortium devoted to developing and deploying advanced network applications and technology that will accelerate the creation of tomorrow’s Internet. (Don’t confuse Internet2 with Web 2.0: Internet2 is walls and plumbing, while Web 2.0 is room layout and decorating.) And, from Europe, GÉANT2, a new pan-European research and education network, is collaborating with China ’s university network to improve connectivity, with the goal of making international collaboration on research projects easier.

At some removes from the sciences on the academic spectrum, people in the performing arts also need uncongested bandwidth: video and sound tend to be bandwidth intensive. At the 2004 Chinese-American Networking Symposium in Florida, attendees were able to watch a violin instructor in the United States give a lesson to a student in Beijing. Teacher and student, both native Chinese, were able to interact virtually with great ease.

These noncommercial networks pioneer new ways of doing things on a scale that is large—but not too large—and then commercial enterprises capitalize on that work. Cisco Systems, for example, has tested new systems through Internet2. In the future, look for e-learning and e-health initiatives as well as early-warning systems for natural disasters.

Guanxi thanks Heather Boyles, director of international relations for Internet2, for contributing to this article.

Source: Boyles, Heather. (2006). New Global Networking. Guanxi: The China Letter, 2, 7.