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An obscure Chinese commission could change the future of AVs

A black illustrated car with yellow stars for headlights against red backdrop (like Chinese flag)
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) released on Dec. 27 a sprawling roadmap for autonomous vehicle development that named an “Internet of Vehicles Development Commission” to lead work on AV policy.

Why it matters: AV leadership by this commission may indicate a more protectionist approach in China, given incentives to carry out President Xi’s goal of limiting reliance on foreign “core technologies.”

Background: The commission's head, Miao Wei, is the Minister of MIIT and the architect of the Made in China 2025 plan, which set detailed targets for replacing foreign technology with domestic substitutes. The plan has drawn international criticism for acting as a barrier to trade and violating WTO rules, and eliminating its targets has been a goal of the U.S. in bilateral trade negotiations.

Details: MIIT regulates a range of tech-related industries as well as the auto sector, often with a nurturing, protectionist hand. Its leadership of the commission subordinates other agencies that regulate the AV sector, like the Ministries of Transportation and Public Security.

  • The commission sits under the “Leading Small Group for Building a Powerful Manufacturing Country,” one of the coordinating bodies that referee policy disputes by holding agency leaders accountable to a member of China’s Politburo (in this case, Vice Premier Ma Kai).

What to watch: Minister Miao, who is also the former CEO of state-owned Dongfeng Motors, recently highlighted several priorities for the commission:

  • Develop an AV demonstration zone in the Xiong’an New Area, a Beijing exurb that China’s central government plans to rebuild as an AV-enabled metropolis.
  • Expand infrastructure for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology. (In October, China set a national DSRC standard, and it plans to cover 90% of the country with C-V2X sensors by 2020.)
  • Increase financial and policy support for Chinese companies producing core technologies like telematics and sensors. This could include direct funding of Chinese AV technology and new barriers to entry for foreign firms.

The bottom line: Both American and Chinese officials increasingly see technology as a zero-sum game. But U.S. efforts to limit sales of AV tech to China through export controls and Chinese limitations on the foreign use of China's mapping data won't help vehicle development in either country. If AV development suffers, companies and consumers all lose.

Patrick Lozada is a director in the China practice of Albright Stonebridge, a strategic advisory and commercial diplomacy firm.