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Impressive as China's technological surge has been, it is far from clear whether the country will, as its government expects, become an AI superpower in the near term. (Nikkei photo illustration/Source photos by Getty Images, Reuters)
The Big Story

Why China's AI players are struggling to evolve beyond surveillance

Suspicion and reliance on state support make Chinese technology a hard sell overseas

YIFAN YU, Nikkei staff writer | China

BOSTON/PALO ALTO, U.S./HONG KONG -- All around a small city near China's border with Vietnam, posters and billboards carry the slogan "Building Smart City." Surrounded by hills and lakes, the town -- whose name the Nikkei Asian Review is not publishing to protect its sources -- is still a relative backwater, in one of the least developed regions of the country.

Most of the residents did not get access to the internet until the late 2000s. In a corner office on the fifth floor of the city hall, though, they now have a dedicated Department of Smart City Development. The official in charge, who gave his name as Cao, is in his 50s and near retirement. His background is in architecture, and he had no experience in technology until he was promoted to head the department in early 2018.

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