BEIJING - In an otherwise nondescript conference room, Wu Jianping stands before a giant wall of frosted glass. He toggles a switch and the glass becomes transparent, looking down on an imposing network operations center full of large computer displays. They show maps of China and the world, pinpointing China's IPv6 links, the next generation of the Internet. China already has almost twice the number of Internet users as in the United States, and Dr. Wu, a computer scientist and director of the Chinese Educational and Research Network, points out that his nation is moving more quickly than any other in the world to deploy the new protocol. IPv6 - Internet Protocol version 6 - offers advanced security and privacy options, but more important, many more I.P. addresses, whose supply on the present Internet (IPv4) is almost exhausted. "China must move to IPv6," Dr. Wu said. "In the U.S., some people don't believe it's urgent, but we believe it's urgent." If the future of the Internet is already in China, is the future of computing there as well? Many experts in the United States say it could very well be. Because of the ready availability of low-cost labor, China has already become the world's dominant maker of computers and consumer electronics products. Now, these experts say, its booming economy and growing technological infrastructure may thrust it to the forefront of the next generation of computing. For China, the quest to develop advanced computing centers is not simply a matter of national pride. It is an attempt to lay the groundwork for innovative Chinese companies and to reshape the technological landscape by doing something more than assembling the world's desktop PCs. Never mind that there may be no Chinese Steve Jobs, said Clyde V. Prestowitz Jr., president of the Economic Strategy Institute. "There are different kinds of innovation," he said. "We tend to equate innovation with companies that start from garages based on brainstorms. "There is another kind of innovation that results in constant improvement that we are not good at - and they are." The view is not universal. Still, other experts say it would be a mistake to underestimate China's capacity for rapid progress. "When I went to China for the first time in 1978, I saw workers stringing together computer memories with sewing needles," said Patrick J. McGovern, the founder of the International Data Group, an early investor in Tencent Holdings, one of the most successful Chinese Internet companies. "Now innovation is accelerating, and in the future, patents on smartphones and tablets will be originated by the Chinese people." A New Kind of Challenge Going back six decades - to Eniac, considered to be the first electronic computer - the United States has set both the pace and the path of modern computing and communication. From mainframes to iPhones, from the Arpanet to WiFi, innovation has been as American as Norman Rockwell. And for more than a generation, the hub of innovation has been Silicon Valley, a multicultural melting pot that has supported the singular amalgam of computer-hacker ethos and entrepreneurial aggressiveness that made it the envy of the world. Probably the most serious challenge to the Valley's dominance came in the late 1980s from Japan, which seemed on the brink of taking command of the semiconductor and computer industries until its economy foundered. Today, China poses a very different kind of challenge. While Japan's economy has long been driven by exports, China will soon have the world's largest domestic market for both Internet commerce and computing. The world took notice of Chinese technological prowess in late 2010, when a Chinese supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A, briefly became the world's fastest. Though it was made from American processors and was soon surpassed by a Japanese machine, it was still indisputable evidence that the Chinese had achieved world-class computing designs.