The Russian essayist and activist Garry Kasparov at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome.
Marilla Sicilia | Mondadori Portfolio | Getty Images
Though Russia and China have often been grouped together in regard to their troubled relations with America, Kasparov, a long-time critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, told CNBC that the technological “threat” from both countries should be viewed differently.
The threat from Moscow is “all about immediate benefit,” he said in an interview. “The threat coming from Russia is a more tactical threat, a threat that could be resolved from very agile use of modern technologies and undermining the foundations of the free world.”
Russia’s use of technology in order to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election continues to generate headlines today, while China’s rising technological strength has come into question amid the U.S.-Sino trade war.
Kasparov, who is now a security ambassador at antivirus software maker Avast, combines the alleged spreading of fake news online and so-called “troll factories” like the Russian-based Internet Research Agency in his criticism of Russia’s exploitation of technology.
With China, the threat is “more strategic,” according to Kasparov. “It’s more about collecting data. It’s more about playing long games,” he said. “If Putin cares about dollars and immediate political benefits, the Chinese think in (terms of) centuries.”
But one thing’s for certain, Kasparov says: “These threats, they are real.”
China has committed to transforming into a global powerhouse when it comes to high-tech manufacturing, as part of its Made in China 2025 initiative. Beijing is also vying to become a world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030.
The growth of the country’s tech sector has become a crucial component of its tense dispute with the U.S., which has placed telecommunications giant Huawei and other Chinese tech firms on a trade blacklist.
‘It’s very important to show strength’
Another point of contention between the U.S. and China has arisen in recent weeks, regarding how Beijing responds to criticism, most recently when it comes to the authorities’ reaction to anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Chinese state TV recently said it would stop airing NBA preseason games while several local brands cut ties with the basketball league over comments made by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey in support of the Hong Kong protests.
Meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to appease China, U.S. gaming giant Activision Blizzard suspended the professional “Hearthstone” player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai and stripped him of his earnings after he appeared to express support for the protesters in an interview — only to later reduce the ban and return his prize money.
Kasparov criticized U.S. firms that bow to Chinese censorship, arguing companies that drop sponsorship of certain sports leagues or players for making political statements should be faced with a boycott.
And while he isn’t necessarily a fan of Trump’s trade war, Kasparov said “it’s very important to show strength” when it comes to nations like China. “It’s very important to demonstrate to non-democratic countries that there are limits of tolerance.”
Kasparov, who in 1985 became the youngest world chess champion at the age of 22, has since become an outspoken political activist. He famously took on IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer in the late ’90s, winning the first match and losing the second.