The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 13th Five-Year Plan is going to conclude this year. For the first time, quantum communications was part of the plan, and it was even listed as the second largest strategic emerging industry and a government-sponsored R&D project. But the project is likely to fail and is going to be a big investment failure.
On Sept. 29, 2017, the regime’s mouthpiece Xinhua highly praised the official opening of the “Beijing-Shanghai Link”—a quantum secured communication fiber-optic link that connected Beijing and Shanghai. Pan Jianwei, the project’s leader and China’s top quantum physicist, indicated that this quantum link will serve as the backbone connecting quantum networks in four cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Jinan, and Hefei, the report said.
Quantum technology is an emerging field of physics and engineering that relies on the principles of quantum physics. Examples of quantum technologies include quantum computing, quantum sensors, quantum cryptography, quantum simulation, and quantum imaging.
QuantumCTek, formerly known as Anhui Quantum Communications, is considered the leader of China’s quantum technology industry. Its website claims that the company “integrates production, education and research.” QuantumCTek’s top three shareholders are: the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), holding an 18 percent stake; Pan Jianwei, who is affiliated with USTC, owning about 11 percent; and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is an indirect shareholder through the Chinese Academy of Sciences Holdings Co. USTC is under the direct leadership of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
However, Xu Lingyu, a columnist for the Guancha Syndicate and a retired researcher of the UCLA Department of Physics, pointed out that this new technology has not created much interest, use or profit in China and is bound to be abandoned soon.
In his article titled, “The Reasons and Truths of the Quantum Communication Project Coming Down From the Altar,” Xu explained: “The Beijing-Shanghai Quantum Communication Link has been ignored by the media. Multiple inter-provincial quantum communication links originally planned have been suspended. The media has never reported about any customers using quantum secure communication technology in online transfers and payments. A product without enthusiastic users and stable profit will end up being abandoned by the market at any time.”
Nevertheless, on July 9 of this year, QuantumCTek became the first quantum technology firm to list an initial public offering in China with an issue price of 36.18 yuan ($5.18). By midday the price had reached $50.49 per share, 876 percent up from its issue price on Shanghai’s STAR market board. And by the end of the day, the stock had jumped 924 percent from its issue price—the largest first-day leap in the history of China’s stock markets.
In other words, in the closing year of the 13th Five-Year Plan, the quantum communication project that the CCP has been promoting is set to become a market outcast sooner or later. And yet, QuantumCTek managed to be successfully listed as China’s “first quantum technology stock.”
QuantumCTek is a high-profile firm on China’s stock market because it was hailed by the CCP through the 13th Five-Year Plan and because its founder, Pan Jianwei, is known in China as the “father of quantum technology.”
But there’s some fine print in the company’s prospectus that is easily overlooked. It reads: “The company’s core technology research and development is not connected with the University of Science and Technology of China or Pan Jianwei.”
Coincidentally, while Pan publicly stated that his interaction with a number of military industry companies was limited to scientific lectures, at the beginning of 2019, his U.S. travel visa was delayed due to his “headhunter” activity under China’s Thousand Talents program. It has also been reported that his research has military defense applications.
Public information reveals that QuantumCTek’s top five customers fall into the political and military categories of government affairs, finance, power, and national defense, and in 2017, 2018, and 2019, these top five customers accounted for 82.87 percent, 73.59 percent, and 80.75 percent of the firm’s revenues, respectively. This data shows two things: QuantumCTek faces the risk of being controlled by large, centralized customers, and its quantum communication products and equipment are mainly supplied to the government, state-owned enterprises, and the military.
When QuantumCTek was publicly listed, the company’s executives said that they would accelerate market expansion and commercial application, and would develop a quantum communications industry ecosystem. At the end of the third quarter of this year, QuantumCTek reported that it plans to coordinate the construction of a quantum communication line in the Yangtze River Delta, and that its business mainly depends on the promotion of local governments.
Xu Lingyu, in his article, quoted an audit report issued by an accounting firm. It showed that QuantumCTek’s income has been weak since 2016. It showed negative growth in 2018, and an 80 percent cliff-like plunge in 2019. According to reports, QuantumCTek is the leading manufacturer of quantum communication equipment in China, and their financial situation in recent years has fully reflected the predicament of the industrialization of quantum communication.
State media People’s Daily Online once published an article praising quantum communication, saying it “helps information security and confidentiality.” However, many experts inside and outside of China have pointed out that the so-called quantum communication in the country is not a new communication technology, or even a new cryptographic technology. It is, in fact, just “quantum key distribution” (QKD) technology. In essence, it is encryption technology rather than communication technology and is only an application on the quantum internet.
Does quantum encryption currently have practical significance, especially commercial value? Without the infrastructure of a quantum internet, all quantum communication applications, including QKD, are useless. Under such circumstances, blindly promoting the engineering and industrialization of “quantum key distribution” inevitably leads to problems.
Peng Chengdong, Chairman of QuantumCTek, seems to know this very well. According to public reports, he confessed: “If a company cannot transform innovative technologies into mature products that can be marketed, if new products cannot effectively integrate with the modern ICT industry and traditional information security industry, if in terms of technological maturity new products are weaker than traditional commercial cryptography and products, the company’s market development and future development will be adversely affected.”
QuantumCTek has also reminded investors that the quantum communication industry is influenced by the authorities and is subject to adverse changes.
In another article, Xu Lingyu said the Cryptography Law that came into effect on Jan. 1 includes the management and control of future encryption technology. Quantum cryptography technology does not qualify as the country’s core cryptography or ordinary cryptography, and does not have the ability to participate in the market competition of commercial cryptography.
“With the Cryptography Law [in place], quantum communication projects can no longer be the edge ball. The good days of commercialization and industrialization with government money may come to an end,” Xu said.
In other words, the Cryptography Law launched in the final year of the 13th Five-Year Plan may have left the quantum communications industry as an unfinished project.
In fact, the winners and losers have already appeared. QuantumCTek’s major shareholders gained over 100 million yuan ($14.8 million) after the company went public on the Shanghai STAR market board. For example, project developer Pan Jianwei gained more than 2.4 billion yuan ($355.7 million). Two months later, the shareholders of the secondary market suffered a tragic loss of more than 21 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) due to the drop in share price and market value.
Chen Simin is a freelance writer who often analyzes China’s current affairs. She has contributed to The Epoch Times since 2011.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.