China orders government, state firms to dump foreign PCs

The exercise is likely to eventually replace at least 50 million PCs on a central-government level alone. PHOTO: PEXELS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China has ordered central government agencies and state-backed corporations to replace foreign-branded personal computers with domestic alternatives within two years, marking one of Beijing's most aggressive efforts so far to eradicate key overseas technology from within its most sensitive organs.

Staff were asked after the week-long May break to turn in foreign PCs for home-made alternatives that run on operating software developed domestically, people familiar with the plan said.

The exercise, which was mandated by central government authorities, is likely to eventually replace at least 50 million PCs on a central-government level alone, they said, asking to remain anonymous discussing a sensitive matter.

The decision advances China's decade-long campaign to replace imported technology with local alternatives, a sweeping effort that covers everything from semiconductors to networking gear and phones.

It is likely to directly affect sales by HP and Dell Technologies, the country's biggest PC brands after local champion Lenovo Group.

The replacement effort reflects Beijing's growing concerns around information security as well as a confidence in homegrown hardware: the world's biggest laptop and server makers today include Lenovo, Huawei Technologies, and Inspur, while local developers such as Kingsoft and Standard Software have made rapid strides in office software against American firms such as Microsoft and Adobe.

The campaign will be extended to provincial governments later and also abide by the two-year timeframe, the people said.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and State Council Information Office did not respond to faxed requests for comment.

China has been encouraging use of home-made IT products in government agencies for at least a decade, regularly barring certain products from government procurement lists.

In response, United States IT giants such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Microsoft have set up joint ventures with companies backed by the Chinese government, to secure orders from the richest state-owned companies.

That process has long been dogged by inadequacies in Chinese-developed software and circuitry, forcing users to rely on imported equipment. That changed in recent years, as local champions such as Inspur and Lenovo gained global market share, though their products still rely on cutting-edge American components such as processors from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

As of Friday (May 6), HP-branded machines were still available for purchase on a website used by central government procurement bodies, though it was unclear if transactions would go through.

The latest central government directive is likely to cover only PC brands and software, and exclude hard-to-replace components such as processors from Intel and AMD, the people said.

China will mostly encourage Linux-based operating systems to replace Microsoft's Windows. Shanghai-based Standard Software is one of the top providers of such tools, one person said.

Certain agencies, including state-owned media and cybersecurity bodies, may continue to buy advanced foreign equipment under special permits as they always have, one of the people said. That permit system could be tightened in future, the person said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.