‘Technological Cold War’ gets a passing mention

by Chris Zappone

I am not a big believer in gotcha journalism for its own sake, so I feel a little funny pointing out a crafty edit by a news organization. But the change that occurred in this article seems worth noting.

Paul Mozur writes about the new rules for technology being considered in China and notes the perception that the regulations are being crafted to exclude foreign companies.

Between the time I first read the article: New Rules in China Upset Western Tech Companies and returned to it less than hour later, the sentence which originally included a reference to a Cold War had changed.

Here is the original sentence:

“The letter is the latest salvo in an intensifying tit-for-tat between China and the United States, which have clashed over online security during the last two years in what has begun to resemble a technological Cold War. 

Online now, it reads:

The letter is the latest salvo in an intensifying tit-for-tat between China and the United States over online security and technology policy.

Whatever the reason for the edit, the description of “a technological Cold War,” sparked in part by Edward Snowden, disclosures is telling. Both the US and Chinese economy must grow strategically in a way that supports their countries’ overall ambition.

There is also a good line explaining the Chinese view of technology:

Zuo Xiaodong, vice president of the China Information Security Research Institute, said the new policies and the broader push for indigenous innovation were not intended to eliminate foreign companies from the market.

“We’re under the yoke of others. If the others stop services, what do we do?” he said, noting that many Chinese companies and local governments had to scramble when Microsoft discontinued its support of Windows XP. “From a security perspective, that simply wasn’t acceptable. We’re breaking away from these types of circumstances.”

So the question for China is how fast can they get up to producing their own indigenous technology free of these concerns. (Watching Xiaomi, Huawei are pretty good bellwethers.) For the US and Western countries: can they keep the lead in technology they have enjoyed for the past 200 or so years?

True, US-China competition is not so much about naval fleets and military divisions. Instead, it occurs at the margins of the bilateral relationship – which itself sits at the center of globalized trade. True competition between the two countries is around technology, trade secrets and cutting-edge industries. That’s why the phrase is interesting.

And that’s why while the US and China can agree over matters like terrorism and climate-change (and other issues), when it drifts into the realm of cyber competition, space, and technological prowess, the US-China rivalry comes into view. It’s in this notion that a Cold War-style division of specific industries with implications for a nation’s success make sense.