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China’s High-Tech Progress Isn’t All Peaceful—Data Sheet

October 2, 2019, 11:56 AM UTC

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Typically my columns in this space focus on China’s commercial technology: the wonders of WeChat, the triumphs of Taobao, the hubbub about Huawei. But on Tuesday, China marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic with an elaborately choreographed weapons parade that offered a rare glimpse of the nation’s military tech capabilities.

The celebration was a corker—China’s most important political event of the year. The parade rumbled for hours through Tiananmen Square, involving 580 tanks, 160 fighter jets and bombers, and 15,000 goose-stepping soldiers. (Check it out on video.) State media report 40% of the weapons displayed in the cavalcade had never previously appeared in public.

The spectacle was primarily meant to dazzle Chinese citizens. But it also sent a clear message to the rest of the world: China has become a formidable military power. As Xi Jinping, presiding over the affair in a charcoal Mao suit, declared: “There’s no force that can shake the foundations of this great nation.”

The armaments on display Tuesday make that a credible boast. America’s nuclear stockpile dwarfs China’s. But in Beijing, China unveiled advanced hypersonic weapons capable of evading interception, new ground-to-air missiles designed to intercept weapons, and a slew of sophisticated drones and unmanned submarines. Among China’s new weapons:

  • Dongfeng 17 (DF-17) hypersonic missile, thought to be China’s first operational missile mounted with a hypersonic glide vehicle enabling it to cruise at high speeds at low altitudes and change course instantly, thus evading detection by current missile-defense systems.
  • Dongfeng 41 (DF-41) intercontinental ballistic missile, a ballistic missile with an estimated range of more than 7,500 miles and capable of striking any part of the United States with 10 separately targeted nuclear warheads.
  • Gongji-11 (GJ-11) stealth combat drone, designed to evade detection by enemy radar and believed able to fly further and remain aloft longer than jet fighters—potentially enhancing China’s combat capacity in the South China Sea or Taiwan Straits.
  • HSU001 underwater drone, thought to be capable of tracking foreign naval vessels or protecting Chinese nuclear submarines.

Global military experts seemed impressed. Sam Roggeveen, director of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute’s International Security Program, told Reuters the weapons in Tuesday’s parade suggest the pace of China’s military technological development is “breathtaking.” China’s new arsenal “dramatically erodes the U.S. military edge in Asia,” he said.

Elsa Kania, adjunct senior fellow with the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told the Los Angeles Times the parade demonstrates how far China’s military has progressed since 2014, when Xi directed it to pursue technological innovation. The parade highlights that “the People’s Liberation Army’s ambitions to become a truly world-class military that is leading in new frontiers of military power,” she said.

Meanwhile, stateside, Aaron is back compiling the rest of the newsletter today.

Clay Chandler

On Twitter: @claychandler

Email: clay.chandler@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Put it on my tab. Did I miss anything? I know, the company formerly known as WeWork withdrew its registration to go public on Monday. On Tuesday night, credit agency Fitch Investors warned the startup was now in deep trouble, lacking adequate "liquidity." The agency "anticipates that WeWork will dramatically scale back its growth ambitions and associated overhead expense."

Signed, sealed, delivered. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday largely upheld the Federal Communications Commission's decision to gut its net neutrality rules. But the judges did say the agency overstepped when it tried to block states from adopting their own limits on Internet service providers. The case is Mozilla v. FCC.

He did not just say that. Recordings of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking at a couple of internal company meeting sparked controversy, as Zuck said the company would end up in a titanic legal battle to avoid being broken up if Elizabeth Warren was elected president. Facebook will also use its Lasso short video app, a TikTok clone, to battle TikTok around the world, he said. On the other hand, some of Facebook's biggest partners for its planned Libra digital currency are getting skittish. Visa, Mastercard, and others may pull out of the project due to bad publicity, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Fly by. Delivery company UPS won approval to operate a drone delivery service for hospitals. It's the first company to receive a comprehensive certification for commercial flights from the Federal Aviation Administration under the agency's drone-regulating rule known as Part 135.

Pay me now or pay me later. More than 600 government agencies, schools, and hospitals have been hit by ransomeware so far in 2019, according to security firm Emsisoft. Hackers hit at least 68 state, county, and municipal entities, 62 school districts and other educational establishments, and 491 health care providers.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Has it really been 40 years since the arrival of Douglas Adams' brilliant sci-fi satire The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy in print? Originally a BBC radio program, the book remains a relevant and hilarious send-up of our increasingly technological society, writes Shamini Bundell in an essay for the journal Nature.

But Adams was just as likely to poke fun at technology. Critiquing the need for multiple secure passwords, he creates a fictional “Ident-I-Eeze” card designed to hold all of them; it is promptly stolen. Plenty of other inventions go wrong in all-too-recognizable ways. Future AI is programmed with “genuine people personalities”; the result is paranoid androids and annoyingly cheerful doors. A psychic drink synthesizer provides a liquid “almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea”. There’s a radio controlled by sophisticated motion-detection sensors, which demands that listeners sit stock-still to avoid changing the station. “Technology,” Adams once said, “is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.” That might be why The Hitchhiker’s Guide states that one of the most useful things a person can own is a towel.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Google’s New Password Security Tool Flags Compromised Websites By Jeff John Roberts

Some ‘Amazon’s Choice’ Security Cameras Pose ‘Huge’ Hacking Risk, Study Says By Alyssa Newcomb

Former Yahoo Employee Pleads Guilty to Hacking Thousands of Accounts to Find Nude Photos By Lisa Marie Segarra

Facebook’s $5 Billion Privacy Settlement Argued Consumers Weren’t Harmed. Experts Think the Damage Was Incalculable By Danielle Abril

How Comedy Central Grew Up to Hold Its Own Against Netflix By Stacey Wilson Hunt

Comcast, Mastercard, and Samsung Are Pouring Millions Into This Password-Killing Startup By Robert Hackett

HPE CEO’s Leadership Advice: ‘Aspire to Be Something Bigger’ By Susie Gharib

BEFORE YOU GO

Small enough to fit in your local food truck and able to sling up to five pizza pies a minute, check out this video of Seattle startup Picnic's new pizza robot. No word on a name for the pizza-bot yet. How about Dominos Defeator? Or Slice-o-matic? Suggestions?

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.