A China-US Technological Cold War

by Chris Zappone

Forget the South China Sea. If you want to see the diciest area of US-China competition, it’s in the technology world – from cyberspace, to the technology industry, to outer space. The September 23 U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum is being described by the New York Times as China flexing it’s tech muscles before the Xi Jinping’s visit to the White House.

Five short observations.

1) This New York Times article describes China and the US in a “sort of technological Cold War” in which the US opposes China’s hacking and China squeezes US tech firms operating in China with unfair rules. A technological Cold War, if accurate, is significant because it points to a long-term struggle.

2) If this meeting is aimed at reminding the US that Beijing can hurt US companies, it also serves to drive a wedge between the US government and US business. This exploits the divisions between industry and government which arose in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden revelations.

3) Some would say those are the point of the Snowden revelations. Sure, for Westerners, Snowden is all about privacy rights. But for Snowden’s host-country, it’s about sowing divisions with the US and West. China may be taking a page from Russia’s playbook by using this tech forum in this way.

4) While the US and companies are tussling over privacy issues, there a questions of how far Corporate America backs the White House in its quest to rein in China’s hacking. After all, these companies stand to make a lot of money from China, though clearly many US tech companies also look to the US government for support in their China struggles.

It’s worth noting that the prospect of US corporate interests colliding with the public interest, epitomized within the US-China tech struggle, was ironically the theme to another Seattle event, the protests outside the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting. It is a major meta-theme in the US election today.

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