China tech battle sees sanctions stay, alliances made

United States President Joe Biden will hold a joint press conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on April 16, 2021.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

GUANGZHOU, China – In his first 100 days as president, Joe Biden made one thing clear: He wants to make sure the US outperforms China on several fronts, with technology at the fore.

Its policies continue the Trump-era tough line on export controls for Chinese tech companies, but add a few new elements – working with allies in areas seen as critical, such as: B. Semiconductors, and the focus on improving domestic skills.

“The priority is on domestic innovation and forging technology alliances to coordinate the technology confrontation with China,” said Paul Triolo, head of geotechnical practice at Eurasia Group.

What has Biden done so far?

While Biden has maintained these rules, he has also announced guidelines aimed at spurring American innovation.

“Where the Trump administration has been more focused on countermeasures (e.g. restrictions on Chinese military companies), Biden’s early reporting suggests that it is combining those with more offensive or proactive ones – e.g. investing in alternatives to China.” said Emily de La Bruyere, co-founder of consulting firm Horizon Advisory.

In his US employment plan, Biden calls on Congress to invest US $ 180 billion in promoting “US leadership in critical technologies and modernizing American research infrastructure.” There’s also a call to invest $ 50 billion in manufacturing and research through the bipartisan CHIPS bill.

The establishment of new barriers to US technologies and the essential arming of key supply chains as part of efforts to contain China’s rise are (also) part of the Biden strategy.

Paul Triolo

Head of Geotechnical Practice, Eurasia Group

Earlier this month, a number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers reintroduced the Endless Frontier Act into the legislative process. This suggests changing the name of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) to the National Science and Technology Foundation (NSTF). This is an independent US government agency that aims to advance scientific research.

A technology directorate would be established under the renamed NSTF and receive $ 100 billion over five years to “strengthen American leadership in the discovery and application of key technologies that define global competitiveness.”

The Directorate would fund research in 10 key areas, including artificial intelligence, semiconductors, robotics, materials science and advanced communication technologies.

The focus on domestic investment, but also on maintaining export controls, is “primarily driven by the perceived need to protect the US company’s technology leadership in key areas such as semiconductor manufacturing,” said Triolo.

“Unlocking new barriers to US technology and arming key supply chains as part of efforts to contain China’s rise are (also) part of Biden’s strategy,” he added.

Semiconductor focus

International tech alliances

Another difference between Biden’s approach to China and technology and Trump’s approach is the focus on “multilateralism,” according to Bruyere.

Earlier this month, Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said the US and Japan would work together on research and development in areas such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology.

The competition between the US and China is ideological. China is trying to forge a new global order; It is up to Washington to lead the development of a better alternative.

Emily de La Bruyere

Co-founder of Horizon Advisory

The two nations also said they will partner in “supply chains, including semiconductors, to promote and protect the critical technologies that are essential to our security and prosperity”.

Biden will also meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington next month. Semiconductors and technical issues are expected to be part of their conversation.

Both Japan and South Korea are important parts of the semiconductor supply chain and play important roles in other critical technology areas, including robots and next-generation 5G cellular networks.

“The competition between the US and China is ideological. China is trying to create a new world order. It is up to Washington to drive forward the development of a better alternative,” said Bruyere. “For this alternative to be actually better – and convincing – it must be multilateral. It must incorporate the interests and voices of global stakeholders.”

What is China doing?

Biden’s focus on technology during his first 100 days in presidency is in part in response to China’s growing technological ambition.

In its five-year development plan, Beijing said it would “make the self-reliance and self-improvement of science and technology a strategic pillar for national development.”

The plan is to advance research into “frontier technology,” seven areas of quantum computing and semiconductors that China sees as key.

In recent years, China has tried to catch up with the US and other nations in the semiconductor space, but is lagging far behind.

Meanwhile, China is also pushing to play a bigger role in developing global standards that will aid the development of future technologies.

Horizon Advisory’s Bruyere says questions remain about Biden’s approach to China’s moves to date, including whether the administration will focus on broad areas of technology or areas of lower value added like machine tools and basic primary raw materials like lithium, which China is currently dominating .

Another question is whether the US can compete with China “for scaled, global applications of the technological capabilities it builds at home.” Technology standards are one area.

“The biggest question right now is whether the US will be able to adopt the comprehensive strategic framework required to compete with China’s approach,” said Bruyere.

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