Image of Photo of Sihan Chen and Dr Paul G. Clifford

5G in China

The China Forum seminar on Tuesday 7 February 2023 was given by Ms Sihan Bo Chen (Head of Greater China, GSMA) and Dr Paul G. Clifford (Non-resident Senior Fellow, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School).

The seminar consisted of presentations from Ms Chen Sihan and Dr Paul G. Clifford. Ms Chen’s presentation was entitled ‘The Transformative Impact of 5G Deployment in China’. She began by introducing GSMA, which includes almost every global mobile operator. Its main objective is ensuring inter-connectivity between mobile operators across the world. She analysed key issues in the development of 5G, both globally as well as in China. China’s 5G network has developed rapidly: it contains 60 per cent of the world’s base stations, 65 per cent of 5G connections,  and 70 per cent of IoT connections. The government has played a key role in the rapid roll-out of 5G in China. Ms Chen analysed the impact that 5G has had in facilitating China’s transformation to a ‘smart’, ‘digital’ society. She analysed the impact of 5G upon industry, finance, urban development, education and healthcare. 5G is playing a central role in the development of the Internet of Things in China, facilitating China’s transition to an energy-efficient and intelligent society, that is inclusive, livable and safe.

Dr Clifford’s presentation was entitled ‘Dispelling myths and misconceptions about Huawei Technologies - China’s 5G leader’. He examined the central role that Huawei has played in the modernization of China’s telecoms sector. He analysed the myths and misconceptions about Huawei, including its ownership and control, its relationship to the government, the sources of its funding, its technological capability and corporate culture. He argued that Huawei’s success has been based upon unremitting focus on its core business, a high level of investment in R&D, openness to learning from international advisors and relentless focus upon customer service. Dr Clifford concluded by exploring the reasons behind the sanctions against Huawei.

The following issues were raised in the Q&A session: the extent to which the sanctions against Huawei are driven by the USA’s determination to maintain its global economic and military hegemony; the extent to which the USA’s ‘tech war’ over semiconductor sales to China will slow down the roll-out, or harm the quality, of 5G provision in China; the extent to which GSMA can assist its members when they face geopolitical sanctions; the role that GSMA can play in the development of 5G in developing countries, other than China.

Sihan Bo Chen is the Head of Greater China at the GSMA and Head of Asia for its convening arm. GSMA is the world’s largest mobile industry association that unites 750 MNOs and 400+ ecosystem companies. She led the establishment of GSMA’s Greater China team in 2016 at the rise of China’s technology market and has been instrumental in supporting the industry to strategize and expedite 5G’s commercial growth. She works with some of the most prominent industry leaders to advance innovation and is a keen advocate for the global mobile industry’s common interests as they navigate through turbulent times. 

Sihan Chen joined GSMA in 2011 as Vice President, Business Development of Asia and was the key leader to develop GSMA’s convening business in Asia. Prior to GSMA, She built up extensive experience in media, government relationships and business management in both mainland China and the United Kingdom. She holds an MBA degree from the University of Surrey and a Bachelor of Arts in Education. 

Dr Paul G. Clifford is Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is also President of the management consultants Paul G. Clifford & Associates, LLC.

The expanded second edition of his book The China Paradox. At the Front Line of Economic Transformation, which draws on his personal experiences to profile the 40 years of China’s economic reforms, was recently published.

Paul Clifford first lived in China as a student in 1973-74. After that he lived and worked in China as a corporate banker, as a strategy consultant and then with a global US high technology firm where he was driving strategy on smart and connected cities and was responsible for a strategic cooperation with a Chinese policy bank. He has advised both Chinese state-owned and private enterprises as well as multinational firms in China across a wide range of sectors. He has been an elected member of a Chinese government advisory group.

He studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where he received a Ph.D. in modern Chinese history, and at Peking University. He has taught in Mexico, UK and the US. He has been widely published on Chinese history, politics, and business. He is fluent in Chinese, classical and modern.