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China vs the US: The Lose-Lose Tech War

Project Syndicate | | May 20, 2022

China vs US tech war - China vs the US:  The Lose-Lose Tech WarThe increasingly bitter rivalry between the United States and China ultimately will leave both countries – and the world – worse off. While competition is unavoidable and even beneficial in some areas, comprehensive efforts to derail each other’s progress stand little chance of success, and will likely backfire.

SINGAPORE/LOS ANGELES – The Sino-American geopolitical rivalry is growing increasingly bitter, with Russia’s war in Ukraine only the latest source of schism. The mutual antagonism is deepening, with little effort on either side to stem the deterioration in the bilateral relationship.

It doesn’t have to be this way. To maintain global peace, and to address humanity’s urgent collective challenges, the United States and China need to find discrete areas where they can pursue cooperation and reverse the rot in their relationship. Science and technology – particularly as they relate to climate change – offer the best prospects for renewed cooperation. To take advantage of such opportunities, however, both sides will first need to reassess fundamental assumptions and lower the temperature of their rhetoric.

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On the American side, too many political leaders and commentators believe that an economic decoupling from China will cripple its ability to catch up, let alone surpass, the US as the world’s leading economy. The dynamism that China has exhibited for the past four decades suggests otherwise. As Graham Allison of Harvard University and his co-authors note in a recent Belfer Center paper, “In some races, [China] has already become No. 1. In others, on current trajectories, it will overtake the US within the next decade.”

On the Chinese side, there are many who believe that the country is now capable of going it alone. They think China has already learned all that it needed to learn from the West and the wider world. Homegrown innovations, in their view, combined with the strength of China’s governing structures, will be enough to sustain the country’s upward trajectory.Chinese who think this way should recall their country’s own history. It was a refusal to learn from the outside world, coupled with the belief that Chinese institutions were superior to all others, that helped to bring about the country’s long decline from its position as the world’s wealthiest and most advanced society.

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The world’s most pressing problems are global, not national. They will require not just competition but also cooperation. Two of the most obvious are COVID-19 and climate change. Neither problem observes national boundaries, and both demand human ingenuity.

The world needs the US and China to cooperate where necessary, and to compete where appropriate.

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