Tech war: Chinese database software vendor shrugs off sanctions risk on using open-source code from Oracle’s MySQL system

·4-min read

A Chinese software vendor has brushed aside speculation that its enterprise product, which uses code from Oracle Corp’s MySQL open-source relational database management system, faces the risk of sanctions amid simmering tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Beijing Wanli Open Source Software Co recently indicated that its open-source database system GreatDB, used by major state-owned firms like China Mobile and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, is not threatened by sanctions or suspensions because the core technology was developed independently, according to the company’s WeChat post last Monday.

That declaration followed assurances made by Shenzhen-listed Troy Information Technology Co, parent of Beijing Wanli Open Source, days earlier to investors that it controls all relevant codes and technologies. Troy, however, admitted that GreatDB’s storage node was built on open-source technology from GreatSQL – a unit of MySQL, whose database software is used by the likes of Microsoft’s Azure cloud business and Amazon Web Services.

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To further clarify, Troy said: “The core of GreatSQL is not related to MySQL, and it is an independent technology evolution.”

The assertions made by Beijing Wanli Open Source and Troy showed a concerted effort to allay concerns that GreatDB could be subject to sanctions risk should MySQL stops licensing its code, which was the subject of an article posted on May 28 on news aggregator platform Jinri Toutiao by an account called “Weichuangshe”.

US tech giant Oracle Corp, which owns open-source relational database management system MySQL, has not made any plans to suspend use of its product’s code by Chinese developers. Photo: Shutterstock
US tech giant Oracle Corp, which owns open-source relational database management system MySQL, has not made any plans to suspend use of its product’s code by Chinese developers. Photo: Shutterstock

The companies’ move reflect growing geopolitical tensions and fresh calls on the mainland to step up replacement of foreign technologies with home-grown products.

Oracle, for example, suspended all its operations in Russia in early March, several days after Moscow invaded Ukraine. That action includes withdrawing all services and support for Russian companies, while barring “export, re-export, transfer to, or use [of its technologies] in Russia or Belarus”, according to a statement on Oracle’s website.

Trade between Russia and its ally China has continued, despite the restrictions imposed by the United States, European Union and their allies against Moscow after the invasion.

To be sure, Oracle has not made any plans to sanction or suspend use of its open-source product’s code by Chinese developers. Open-source denotes software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

People’s Daily urges China to adopt more local software

Meanwhile, an opinion piece published last week by the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, called on the country to use more locally developed software to support domestic innovation, in a sign that the government may want to accelerate efforts to replace imported tech systems with domestic products.

Founded in 2000, Beijing Wanli Open Source was one of the first Chinese developers to work with international database companies. In 2006, it co-founded a China research centre with MySQL and provided localisation services to Chinese customers.

Beijing Wanli Open Source, however, stopped working with MySQL when the company’s Swedish owner sold the firm in 2008 to Sun Microsystems, which was subsequently acquired by Oracle in 2010.

Concerns about open-source code safety are not new in China. An article published last year by Wang Xiaodong, a researcher at the State Information Centre, put the “supply suspension” risks as a key threat to China’s security.

China’s biggest start-ups ditch Oracle and IBM for home-made tech

“All major international open-source code funds, projects and the great majority of open-source code licences originate in the US or in the hands of US companies,” Wang wrote, adding that use of such code could be suspended at any time by those who control it. “In a business perspective, open-source code models are increasingly involved with commercial interests and supply chain security.”

China has been working hard to reduce reliance on imported technologies as early as 2013. US whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s claims about extensive Washington surveillance prompted Beijing to initiate a campaign to replace imported tech systems and components from Western suppliers, such as networking gear maker Cisco Systems, with those from local tech firms like Huawei Technologies Co.

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