We are now in a multi-polar world: U.S. tech calls for greater cooperation with China


Editor's note: Keith Lamb, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a University of Oxford graduate with a Master of Science in Contemporary Chinese Studies. His primary research interests are China's international relations and "socialism with Chinese characteristics." The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN. 

On July 18, Bloomberg reported that the leaders of Intel, Nvidia, and Qualcomm have "lobbied forcefully against the new curbs" on China's chip industry. Fearing their largest market will be cut off to them and ultimately undermine U.S. leadership in the industry, the CEOs of these respective semiconductor giants have pushed, in a meeting with National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, to make their voices heard.

China-U.S. tech trade, under the guise of an overextended national security concept that drums up the "China threat" narrative, has been hampered for some time now. There have been bans on Huawei, export controls on advanced semiconductor chips, and even the prevention of the sales of lithography machines to China by non-U.S. actors!

These actions by Washington aim to curb China's military capabilities but China's military is commensurate with its population size and geographical area. China certainly cannot and does not have hegemonic ambitions. History proves that China's rise and development have been peaceful and beneficial to the world — hence any attempt to paint China's legitimate right to self-defense can only be justified with an overextended national security concept, which is rooted in hegemonic ambition.

Another explanation for the restriction of tech cooperation and sales to China is that the U.S., unable to compete on free trade terms, has been attempting to hobble Chinese tech through various sanctions. The aim is that without Chinese enterprises being able to access cutting-edge technology and Western markets their goods will be of lower quality and profits will dry up — China will remain in a subservient position in the global value chain.

If one takes the developmental concerns of the Global South who are the majority of the world, democratically speaking attempting to hinder a country's development by keeping it in tech subservience is morally odious. Elitist "morality" may argue for might is right — indeed this is the premise of the hegemonic outlook. However, considering the lobbying by big tech, this outlook, or at least the actions that are fermented by this outlook, is no longer desirable. At the very least, they are not pragmatic to the interests of U.S. cutting-edge chip manufacturers.

I know from my own experience of sitting in seminars with Pentagon officials that the U.S. global outlook and its sense of self is one that is ossified in the late 1990s when the U.S. ability to military project itself across the globe became unchallenged and the U.S. domestic market and technological prowess were unmatched.

The Shekou Port in Nanshan District, Shenzhen, China, July 15, 2021. /CFP
The Shekou Port in Nanshan District, Shenzhen, China, July 15, 2021. /CFP

The Shekou Port in Nanshan District, Shenzhen, China, July 15, 2021. /CFP

By clinging to this phantom of the past or at least by trying to resurrect this ghost the U.S. is making erroneous decisions. China and the Global South have woken up. The BRICS economies represent a larger percentage of global GDP than the G7's. China's economy grew by 4.5 percent in the first quarter of this year and even with technological restrictions, China's tech is progressing leaps and bounds. Certainly, they will eventually overcome the bottlenecks imposed upon them.

Simply put, while U.S. actions will do no favors for China's growth, China will not be and has not been stopped by these tech sanctions. Instead, as clearly demonstrated by the U.S. tech lobbying, U.S. actions are only scoring a home goal. Without access to China's consumers and its abundant thinking talent, U.S. big tech will be left behind. Supply chains will be disrupted and production costs for U.S. tech will soar, making it become uncompetitive — their woes will only increase as Chinese tech advances. Of course, when it comes to tech bottlenecks, China's export controls on rare earth metals essential for chips is another warning that we all live in an interconnected world dependent on each other.

The Chinese market will only grow and the same goes for the rest of the Global South. In contrast, the U.S. with only about five percent of the global population will increasingly represent a smaller portion of what will be a larger multi-polar pie. Recognizing this basic material fact, U.S. cutting-edge tech is beseeching the Joe Biden administration to alter course.

The risk is that the intended strategy of hobbling China's tech will only boomerang back on U.S. tech. We don't even need to look too far into the future to see the dire consequences on the horizon for U.S. tech considering Qualcomm gets more than 60 percent of its revenue from China and Nvidia gets about a fifth.

Even when China was less developed, far down the global value chain in manufacturing and technology, the U.S. has always followed a two-pronged strategy simultaneously profiting from China while propagating the "China threat" — a bluff which relies on hideous distortions and lies.

Today we are at a fork in the road and this bluff must be called out. China along with the rest of the Global South is not a threat but the greatest opportunity for humanity, where we all win.

While U.S. tech is calling out the China threat bluff with their lobbying they must also do more to lay the hegemonic phantom to rest and cultivate the spirit of U.S.-China friendship as the basis of future tech cooperation, which will be a pillar of U.S. prosperity.

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