China tech battle sees sanctions remain, alliances made

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks alongside Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as they hold a joint news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, April 16, 2021.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

GUANGZHOU, China — In his first 100 days as president, Joe Biden has made one thing clear — he wants to make sure the U.S. outcompetes China on a number of fronts, with technology being front and center.

His policies continue the Trump-era hardline on export controls to Chinese technology companies but adds some new elements — collaboration with allies in areas seen as critical, such as semiconductors and a focus on beefing up domestic capabilities.

“The priority is on domestic innovation and forging technology alliances to coordinate confrontation against China in the tech domain,” Paul Triolo, head of the geo-technology practice at Eurasia Group, said.

What has Biden done so far?

Semiconductor focus

International tech alliances

What is China doing?

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

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

The plan looks to boost research into “frontier technology,” seven areas from quantum computing and semiconductors, that China sees as being key.

For the past few years, China has been trying to catch up with the U.S. and other nations in the area of semiconductors, though it remains far behind.

Meanwhile, China is also pushing to play a greater role in the development of global standards that underpin the development of future technologies.

Horizon Advisory’s Bruyere said questions still remain over Biden’s approach to China’s moves so far including whether the administration will focus on broad technology areas or “lower-value add areas like machine tools and fundamental, primary raw materials like lithium” which China currently dominates.

Another question is whether the U.S. can compete with China “for scaled, global applications of the technological capabilities it’s building at home.” Technology standards is one area.

“The biggest question right now is whether the U.S. is able to adopt the comprehensive strategic framing necessary effectively to compete with China’s approach,” Bruyere said.

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