Former Google CEO and Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt reckons China's multi-trillion dollar infrastructure projects could very well cause the internet to split.
Asked whether the world would see further balkanization of the internet in the next decade, Schmidt said it's more likely it just splits in two. One internet will be dominated by China and the other will be led by the US, he said, according to CNBC.
"The most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America," he said.
Schmidt, who recently visited China, was blown away by the country's tech scene but warned there was a "real danger" the Chinese government could gain control of chunks of the internet through deals stuck through vehicles like China's gigantic Belt and Road infrastructure project.
SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)
"If you think of China as like 'Oh yeah, they're good with the internet', you're missing the point. Globalization means that they get to play too," said Schmidt.
"You're going to see fantastic leadership in products and services from China. There's a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from government, with censorship, controls, etc.
"Look at the way BRI works -- their Belt and Road Initiative, which involves 60-ish countries -- it's perfectly possible those countries will begin to take on the infrastructure that China has with some loss of freedom."
Schmidt's comments about a China-controlled internet come amid internal debate at Google about its reported re-entry into China with a censored version of its search engine codenamed Dragonfly.
It also follows a recent US ban on government employees from buying tech from Chinese tech firms, Huawei and ZTE.
Google withdrew from China in 2010 in opposition to its censorship rules after revealing it had been hacked by the government.
About a thousand employees have signed a letter opposing Google's return to China's search and online ad market.
It's the latest ethical dilemma that has divided employees following staff protests against Google's involvement in the US Department of Defense's AI project, Maven, and claims by a former employee the company isn't tolerant towards conservative-minded employees.
Why is Google selling potentially compromised Chinese security keys?
Opinion: To sign up for Google's Advanced protection program, you must buy security keys from a Chinese vendor. Security questions have since been raised considering current intelligence laws in China.
Baidu founder confident to beat Google if it returns to China
Google, which exited the Chinese market in 2010 due to government censorship, is rumored to be returning to the country with a censored app to comply with local laws.
Ex-Google chief Eric Schmidt: Elon Musk's views on AI are 'exactly wrong'
Former Google CEO Schmidt reiterates his opposition to Elon Musk's views on artificial intelligence.
Google employee protest: Now Google backs off Pentagon drone AI project
Google won't bid to renew its Project Maven contract with the Pentagon after it expires in 2019.
Ex-Google CEO Schmidt's warfare warning: We need AI ground rules for Pentagon work
But Eric Schmidt urges DoD to do more AI programs like the one that sparked protests from Google employees.
Google's "Don't be evil" apparently doesn't apply in China TechRepublic
Google wants to dictate morality to the US military while selling its morality to China. This does not compute.
Report: Google suppressed an explosive memo about its Chinese search engine CNET
Google's prototype may have been designed to track citizens.