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Analysis of the US-China Tech Competition from a Theoretical Perspective

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In an era, when the world is increasingly getting digitalized and every aspect of state and non-state entities are embedded with technology – it is without a doubt that technology has become a crucial element of national power. Technical innovation has the potency to significantly alter the economic and military landscape. Thus, China and the US are competing over the next breed of technology. According to scholars, today, the US and China are locked in a ‘tech-war’ .The driving force behind this competition is the ‘quest for technological superiority’ .  Among others, major factors that led the Trump administration to imposing trade tariffs against China is considered to be the American perception that China is involved in the ‘forceful transfer of technology’ as well as ‘theft of intellectual property’ ownership of American companies in China. Likewise, the US government also alleges that the Chinese state-entities are actively involved in act of ‘Cyber Espionage’ that involves breach of Cyber-Security of American firms and gaining unauthorized access to ‘sensitive data’ such as ‘trade secrets’ and other vital information .The main theme of this essay is to elucidate basic background of the US-China technology competition and provide an analysis from theoretical perspective.

As with any great power competition, the technological battle between the United States and China is not just limited to these great powers. It is increasingly brining other actors into play; forcing both other state entities (US allies) as well as non-state actors (primarily tech companies) to select sides in the tussle for technological supremacy. We can already see how direct and indirect US pressure on its allies are already forcing them to distance from Chinese technologies and companies. One of the biggest casualties of this confrontation has been the 5G communications network and pioneers of this technology Huawei. The US has accused Huawei of aiding Chinese Government in act of spying by allowing them to have unauthorized access to user data and have imposed sanctions against the company. In the last month, ‘Huawei along with another Chinese tech company ZTE were officially labelled threat to the US national security’ . As a result of US sanctions, ‘Huawei is running short on Chips for its smartphones’ . Just recently, following on the footsteps of the US, United Kingdom have also banned Huawei from their 5G network infrastructure and more similar decisions are anticipated from other European allies. While threat to US national security is unfounded, sanctions against Huawei can be seen as a way to halt China’s march towards becoming a global leader in 5G technology. It can be considered that the Trump Administration is increasingly weaponizing the notion of ‘threat to national security’ to pursue its end of hurting Chinese companies and in-turn the Chinese economy which is evident from the launch of Trump’s Trade War on China [[i]]. 

At a time when the US is increasingly acting hostile against Chinese technology and Chinese firms, China is ramping up investment on future emerging technologies. The ‘Made in China 2025’ a state-led approach which aims to reduce China’s dependency on imported technology by becoming a global leader in the development, manufacturing and production of high-end technology  has seen great amount of resources fueled into areas such as AI, Robotics, Next-Generation Wireless Communications to name a few. Moving ahead with the Made in China 2025, China wants to be self-sufficient with these technologies and compete on the global market with the US. It has sparked a fear in the Trump administration who now consider China as a ‘revisionist power’ and a ‘strategic competitor’ (Trump’s National Security Strategy). By notion of ‘Security Dilemma’ the US fear can be justified in the sense that the supremacy for these high-tech sectors cannot merely be considered a Chinese policy of becoming self-reliant and advancing its domestic tech industry. By furthering research and development in these domains of technology, it cannot outright be dismissed that China can apply these technologies for techno-military applications [[ii]]. In this regard, it is no wonder that the Trump administration has exacerbated technology competition with China because the US considers China’s quest for technological dominance having national security implications.

On viewing the world from a realist lens, the international system is anarchic and states are the rational unitary actors. From the perspective of classical realism, the behavior of states resembles the human characteristics – the drive to dominate, power and competition are all human characteristics inherent in state behavior. This same behavior can be seen from America’s action. As a global hegemon, the US will do everything in its power to not let China come out on top. America wants to dominate the global tech leadership which it has been dominating for the past several decades. In this regard, US action of sanction against Chinese tech companies is a prime example of rational behavior in containing China’s rise in the fields of emerging technologies and perpetuating its dominance in the sphere of technology. On the one hand, the pressurizing of American allies into abandoning Chinese technology for critical infrastructure is an example of just how hellbent the US is on perpetuating its status as the global driving force on the development and innovation of emerging technologies. On the other hand, China is committed towards the race for technical superiority. As Morgenthau puts it, “International Politics like all politics is a constant struggle for power”. Similarly, from a constructivist approach, the norms and values of democratic western states can be viewed as antithetical to communist China. It can be argued that owing to differences in political ideology and differences in norms and values, the West is extremely sceptic of China’s political system. Among others, the reluctance on part of western countries to allow Chinese tech firms to build vital network infrastructure including and not limited to 5G technology from Huawei can be explained in terms of lack of trust on Chinese government. Likewise, the liberal school of IR promotes cooperation between different state and non-state entities in international arena. When observed from the liberal perspective, cooperation instead of competition will be mutually beneficial for both the US and China. Technological cooperation and collaboration should be seen as a positive sum game only then research and development in this domain can be realized for the advancement towards science and technology. Growing US China technological competition will only deepen mistrust and hamper their overall relationship and along with it also push back US China cooperation on technology front. Owing to their significant political influence the repercussions will have a huge impact on global research and development of technological innovations. Therefore, by liberal perspective, it is in the best interest of both the countries that they work together, enhance cooperation and explore new ways to address underlying differences and challenges, and collaborate and cooperate towards development and governance of emerging technologies because intense technological rivalry will only further escalate an already ongoing trade war and hurt both their economies. In turn, the ripple effect arising as a result of this will have a straining effect on global political economy.


[i]Jill Disis, “A New World War over Technology,”

[ii]Marianne Schneider-Petsinger et al

The author is currently pursuing his Master's degree in International Relations from SIPA, Jilin University

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Science & Technology

What is a ‘vaccine passport’ and will you need one the next time you travel?

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An Arab-Israeli woman shows her COVID-19 card which shows she has been vaccinated against the virus. Mohamed Yassin

Is the idea of a vaccine passport entirely new?

The concept of a passport to allow for cross border travel is something that we’ve been working on with the Common Trust Network for many months. The focus has been first on diagnostics. That’s where we worked with an organization called “The Commons Project” to develop the “Common Trust Framework”. This is a set of registries of trusted data sources, a registry of labs accredited to run tests and a registry of up-to-date border crossing regulations.

The set of registries can be used to generate certificates of compliance to prevailing border-crossing regulations as defined by governments. There are different tools to generate the certificates, and the diversity of their authentication solutions and the way they protect data privacy is quite remarkable.

We at the Forum have no preference when it comes to who is running the certification algorithm, we simply want to promote a unique set of registries to avoid unnecessary replication efforts. This is where we support the Common Trust Framework. For instance, the Common Pass is one authentication solution – but there are others, for example developed by Abbott, AOK, SICPA (Certus), IBM and others.

How does the system work and how could it be applied to vaccines?

The Common Trust Network, supported by the Forum, is combining the set of registries that are going to enrol all participating labs. Separately from that, it provides an up-to-date database of all prevailing border entry rules (which fluctuate and differ from country to country).

Combining these two datasets provides a QR code that border entry authorities can trust. It doesn’t reveal any personal health data – it tells you about compliance of results versus border entry requirements for a particular country. So, if your border control rules say that you need to take a test of a certain nature within 72 hours prior to arrival, the tool will confirm whether the traveller has taken that corresponding test in a trusted laboratory, and the test was indeed performed less than three days prior to landing.

The purpose is to create a common good that many authentication providers can use and to provide anyone, in a very agnostic fashion, with access to those registries.

What is the WHO’s role?

There is currently an effort at the WHO to create standards that would process data on the types of vaccinations, how these are channelled into health and healthcare systems registries, the use cases – beyond the management of vaccination campaigns – include border control but also possibly in the future access to stadia or large events. By establishing in a truly ethical fashion harmonized standards, we can avoid a scenario whereby you create two classes of citizens – those who have been vaccinated and those who have not.

So rather than building a set of rules that would be left to the interpretation of member states or private-sector operators like cruises, airlines or conveners of gatherings, we support the WHO’s effort to create a standard for member states for requesting vaccinations and how it would permit the various kinds of use cases.

It is important that we rely on the normative body (the WHO) to create the vaccine credential requirements. The Forum is involved in the WHO taskforce to reflect on those standards and think about how they would be used. The WHO’s goal is to deploy standards and recommendations by mid-March 2021, and the hope is that they will be more harmonized between member states than they have been to date in the field of diagnostics.

What about the private sector and separate initiatives?

When registry frameworks are being developed for authentication tools providers, they should at a minimum feed as experiments into the standardization efforts being driven by WHO, knowing that the final guidance from the only normative body with an official UN mandate may in turn force those providers to revise their own frameworks. We certainly support this type of interaction, as public- and private-sector collaboration is key to overcoming the global challenge posed by COVID-19.

What more needs to be done to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines?

As the WHO has warned, vaccine nationalism – or a hoarding and “me-first” approach to vaccine deployment – risks leaving “the world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk.”

COVAX, supported by the World Economic Forum, is coordinated by the World Health Organization in partnership with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; CEPI, the Centre for Epidemics Preparedness Innovations and others. So far, 190 economies have signed up.

The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator) is another partnership, with universal access and equity at its core, that has been successfully promoting global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. The World Economic Forum is a member of the ACT-Accelerator’s Facilitation Council (governing body).

World Economic Forum

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Iran among five pioneers of nanotechnology

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Prioritizing nanotechnology in Iran has led to this country’s steady placement among the five pioneers of the nanotechnology field in recent years, and approximately 20 percent of all articles provided by Iranian researchers in 2020 are relative to this area of technology.

Iran has been introduced as the 4th leading country in the world in the field of nanotechnology, publishing 11,546 scientific articles in 2020.

The country held a 6 percent share of the world’s total nanotechnology articles, according to StatNano’s monthly evaluation accomplished in WoS databases.

There are 227 companies in Iran registered in the WoS databases, manufacturing 419 products, mainly in the fields of construction, textile, medicine, home appliances, automotive, and food.

According to the data, 31 Iranian universities and research centers published more than 50 nano-articles in the last year. 

In line with China’s trend in the past few years, this country is placed in the first stage with 78,000 nano-articles (more than 40 percent of all nano-articles in 2020), and the U.S. is at the next stage with 24,425 papers. These countries have published nearly half of the whole world’s nano-articles.

In the following, India with 9 percent, Iran with 6 percent, and South Korea and Germany with 5 percent are the other head publishers, respectively.

Almost 9 percent of the whole scientific publications of 2020, indexed in the Web of Science database, have been relevant to nanotechnology.

There have been 191,304 nano-articles indexed in WoS that had to have a 9 percent growth compared to last year. The mentioned articles are 8.8 percent of the whole produced papers in 2020.

Iran ranked 43rd among the 100 most vibrant clusters of science and technology (S&T) worldwide for the third consecutive year, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 report.

The country experienced a three-level improvement compared to 2019.

Iran’s share of the world’s top scientific articles is 3 percent, Gholam Hossein Rahimi She’erbaf, the deputy science minister, has announced.

The country’s share in the whole publications worldwide is 2 percent, he noted, highlighting, for the first three consecutive years, Iran has been ranked first in terms of quantity and quality of articles among Islamic countries.

Sourena Sattari, vice president for science and technology has said that Iran is playing the leading role in the region in the fields of fintech, ICT, stem cell, aerospace, and is unrivaled in artificial intelligence.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Science & Technology

Free And Equal Internet Access As A Human Right

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Having internet access in a free and equal way is very important in contemporary world. Today, there are more than 4 billion people who are using internet all around the world. Internet has become a very important medium by which the right to freedom of speech and the right to reach information can be exercised. Internet has a central tool in commerce, education and culture.

Providing solutions to develop effective policies for both internet safety and equal Internet access must be the first priority of governments. The Internet offers individuals power to seek and impart information thus states and organizations like UN have important roles in promoting and protecting Internet safety. States and international organizations play a key role to ensure free and equal Internet access.

The concept of “network neutrality is significant while analyzing equal access to Internet and state policies regulating it. Network Neutrality (NN) can be defined as the rule meaning all electronic communications and platforms should be exercised in a non-discriminatory way regardless of their type, content or origin. The importance of NN has been evident in COVID-19 pandemic when millions of students in underdeveloped regions got victimized due to the lack of access to online education.

 Article 19/2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights notes the following:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Internet access and network neutrality directly affect human rights. The lack of NN undermines human rights and causes basic human right violations like violating freedom of speech and freedom to reach information. There must be effective policies to pursue NN. Both nation-states and international organizations have important roles in making Internet free, safe and equally reachable for the people worldwide. States should take steps for promoting equal opportunities, including gender equality, in the design and implementation of information and technology. The governments should create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling online environment in accordance with human rights.

It is known that, the whole world has a reliance on internet that makes it easy to fullfill basic civil tasks but this is also threatened by increasing personal and societal cyber security threats. In this regard, states must fulfill their commitment to develop effective policies to attain universal access to the Internet in a safe way.

 As final remarks, it can be said that, Internet access should be free and equal for everyone. Creating effective tools to attain universal access to the Internet cannot be done only by states themselves. Actors like UN and EU have a major role in this process as well.

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