Undoubtedly, science and technology is one of the most important strategic forces to support American hegemony and influence the game between China and the United States. No matter who is the president of the United States, the role of science and technology will remain unchanged. The only possible change is whether to continue the trump administration’s strategy of “weaponizing” science and technology?
As the Biden administration is about to have a “full moon”, think tanks in the United States are also offering suggestions on the Sino US science and technology war. One of the more representative reports is the report entitled “steering: a national technology strategy to meet China’s challenges” issued by the new US Security Center (CNAs) on January 13, 2021, which puts forward a comprehensive national technology strategy framework. The other is a report issued by the China strategy group (CSG), a think tank led by Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, entitled “asymmetric competition: strategies to deal with China’s technological competition.”. Based on the accurate calculation of the maximization of the interests of the United States, the report suggests that Washington should carry out “asymmetric competition” against China in the field of science and technology, and implement the “bifurcation” strategy of selective decoupling in the field of science and technology, with division, combination, pull and fight, among which dollar settlement, social media, search, mobile app store and mobile instant messaging are its strategies The focus of the dual interests of value and value deeply reflects the interest color of the major technology enterprises in the United States.
At present, the United States has formed a more systematic, structured and refined strategic framework in the Sino US science and technology game. As a Biden government that adheres to the establishment, these reports undoubtedly have significant reference and predictability. Therefore, we need to make corresponding preparations systematically and methodically. After taking office, Biden upgraded the presidential advisor to the cabinet level for the first time, and will play a key role in the rebalancing of the global digital ecology in the COVID-19 era. Then, can there be a fundamental change in the Sino US science and technology game? We can’t do simple divination. However, we can examine the internal logic by grasping the key elements of science and technology between China and the United States.
The author thinks that judging the future trend of the game between China and the United States is mainly a combination of two elements and two perspectives: one is the logic of global technological evolution from bottom to top, and the other is the logic of American politics from top to bottom. The former is more certain, while the latter is full of variables. Technical factors are fundamental and long-term decisive forces, and they are predictable variables; political factors are important forces that cause short-term fluctuations, and they are the most unpredictable variables. However, in the face of bottom-up technology and market, top-down political power cannot fundamentally determine the long-term power transfer of science and technology between China and the United States.
First of all, in terms of American political factors, no matter who is the incumbent president, the core strategy of science and technology will be based on the consensus of the American elite. The author thinks that the most simple and clear explanation of this consensus so far is the famous American political scientist millsheimer. In an interview with the voice of Germany in 2020, he said that the logic of the US elite for the rationality of Sino US relations is based on two premises: first, the US will not tolerate China’s rise as an equal competitor; second, the US elite has reason to believe that the US can contain China in the foreseeable future. These two premises, which are indispensable and mutually supportive, constitute the underlying logic of the US policy towards China. Only by dissolving at least one of the two premises can the Sino US science and technology war really stop. But in the short term, it is obviously impossible.
Second, look at the logic of global technology evolution. To observe high technology correctly, we must grasp the big and let go the small, and be good at grasping the core. Especially the insight into leading the “main channel” of global science and technology industry. In the past 50 years, the “main channel” of global science and technology has been the Internet. Its development pattern is basically a stage of 10 years, and it is closely related to summarizing the situation of science and technology game between China and the United States. In the first decade of the new century, China began to rise gradually, especially in 2008, the number of Internet users exceeded that of the United States, but China as a whole is still in a subordinate position, so the cooperation is still at a high point. In the second decade, China’s high technology began to show its strength, especially in some areas such as 5g and mobile payment, which began to challenge the United States, and the Sino US science and technology relationship began to turn.
In the next decade, on the one hand, China’s high-tech will probably exert competitive pressure on US enterprises in more fields; on the other hand, with the Asian African Latin American market becoming the main battlefield of the Internet, China’s high-tech globalization will step into the stage of collective going out, further challenging us enterprises. In particular, China has made clear that “strengthening the national strategic scientific and technological strength” is the first priority in the economic work in 2021, which is undoubtedly a major advance for China’s high technology. Therefore, the evolution of technology determines that the competitiveness of science and technology between China and the United States will further rise.
Then, to be more specific, we judge that the Biden administration’s “strategy” for China’s high technology in the next step is different from that of the trump administration, which mainly embodies three characteristics
First, rational calculation, that is, the supremacy of interests. In the aspect of tactics, more careful balance of interests should be made to reduce the harm to others. American high-tech enterprises have huge interests in the Chinese market, but there are few Chinese high-tech enterprises left in the American market. This great imbalance and asymmetry of interests will restrict Biden’s government’s tactics to a great extent. Unlike the trump administration’s consideration of simply cracking down on Chinese enterprises, Biden will combine “how to further open the Chinese market”.
Second, we should not only be “inside”, but also face (moral commanding height). Therefore, it should be enough to arrest Meng Wanzhou and force tiktok to sell. Of course, the containment of Huawei 5g and high-end chips in the name of network security may continue.
Third, try not to fight alone. Past experience has proved that, on the one hand, the United States alone has limited effect, on the other hand, it has huge cost and negative impact, and at the same time, it affects the interests of many allies. Biden’s government hopes that with the help of alliances, such as the Wassenaar agreement, it may play a more active role in jointly restricting China’s access to high-end equipment and technology.
On the whole, the science and technology game between China and the United States will be more closely related to the overall game between China and the United States. That is to say, it is bound with trade, the South China Sea, Taiwan, human rights and other aspects. When the two sides play games, the priority of high-tech will determine the order and method of solving the problem. Biden’s overall China strategy remains to be seen, including the candidates for key positions such as the Bureau of industry and security (BIS) of the US Department of Commerce. (the author is the chief expert of the Institute of social governance, Zhejiang University, and the sponsor of the global Internet oral history [OHI] project.)