US cannot stop China’s innovation advancements

It would appear that the US is seriously worried about China’s technological advancements. Fearing the loss of the last comparative advantage over the Asian superpower has caused a genuine concern over national defense and competitiveness among America’s ruling elite.

The US using every possible means to curb Asia’s technological rise, including the banning of sales of essential chips to ZTE for seven years, invoking Section 301 of the Trade Act to investigate China’s “unfair trade practices” and barring investment in the information-technology sector. The Donald Trump administration’s target might be the Asian power’s “Made in China 2025”, a strategy meant to make China self-sufficient in an array of technologies.

The 301 investigation was meant to slow down China’s technological advancements by imposing stiff tariffs on a host of Chinese imports and barring the sales of US technology to Chinese firms. In addition, the anti-China faction of the US Congress and the Trump administration have barred Chinese investment in technology sectors.

US charges against China

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer completed a 182-page report on Chinese “unfair trade” practices on March 22. The report was particularly vexed in denouncing China of “forcing” US firms to surrender technology to Chinese joint venture partners.

However, former Morgan Stanley Asia chairman Stephen Roach wrote in the South China Morning Post that US firms were willingly transferring technologies to the joint ventures because it improved production efficiency and profitability. What’s more, technology transfer is a condition for investing in China. US firms had the choice of not doing business with China.

West ignores its policy flaws and China’s efforts

Neither the US nor the European Union has given credit to China for its massive spending on research and development activities to restructure the economy from low to value-added production. According to a February 26 report by US-based CNBC, China spent $279 billion on R&D in 2017, up by almost 71% from 2012.

It is also ironic that a major reason behind China’s leapfrogging the technology gap is the West’s efforts to restrict Chinese participation in its technology sectors. In April 2010, the Young European Federalists’ magazine The New Federalist reported that the EU had accepted Chinese money but barred China from active participation in the Galileo project, the EU’s global navigation satellite system (GNSS),  perhaps for security reasons.

Not surprisingly, China withdrew its financial support and hastened the development of  its own satellite navigation system, BeiDou, which the country envisaged in 1983 but lacked the technology to implement, perhaps the reason prompting it to invest in Galileo. Today, BeiDou is recognized as one of the “big four” GNSSs.

Similarly, the US Congress banned Chinese IT heavyweights Huawei and ZTE from gaining a foothold on the US market, which will likely intensify China’s efforts to accelerate development in computer operating systems and chip manufacturing.

For example, Chinese media such as China Daily are urging the government to “start a new round of innovation.” Indeed, China has earmarked $300 billion to fund activities that would make it self-sufficient for a range of technologies by 2025, The New York Times reported last year. They include the development and production of operating systems and semiconductors.

US policy dilemma

The US seems to be torn between economic reality and political dominance, creating a policy dilemma with respect to China: whether to contain or engage with the country. The US needs China more than it is willing to admit. The Seattle Times reported last November that Boeing had shipped one-third of its 737 airliners to China. Meanwhile US consumers remain mired in personal debt, racking up a debt-to-income ratio of almost 100%, the US Federal Reserve reported in January, requiring low-priced consumer-good imports to sustain economic growth.

Asking businesses and consumers to incur short-term pains to enjoy long-term gains may be an uphill battle. Trump’s tax cuts raised the value of the US dollar, eroding export opportunities. Moreover, businesses and consumers need to survive the short run in order to attain long-term gains. Besides, no one knows how long the long run will be.

US will fail to curb China’s innovation drive

America’s attempts to curb China’s innovation drive will likely fail for a number of reasons.

First, the Chinese government views innovation as the key to sustain the country’s long-term economic and military development. Indeed, Xi Jinping called on China to spare no efforts in making China technology self-sufficient or powerhouse in a speech at the 19th Communist Party Congress last year.

The US encirclement of China with military bases and policy of recruiting nations to help it “contain” the country might be another reason behind China’s spending on military technology to enable it deter military adventurism by the US and its allies.

…India and China appear to be heading for rapprochement, suggesting a new cooperative relationship that could derail Trump’s Ind0-Pacific ambition.

Stakeholders in the South China Sea might be similarly suspicious of US intentions, explaining why the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is negotiating a code of conduct with China. Myanmar, Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations are also holding military exercises with and buying arms from China.

There is no reason to believe that staunch allies like Australia, Japan and South Korea are willingly joining the US in containing China, because that would amount to cutting off the hand that feeds them. China is these  countries’ biggest export market, according to the International Monetary Fund.

For these reasons, the US might encounter difficulties in recruiting or coercing other nations to join it in curbing China’s innovation ambitions.

US efforts to thwart China’s innovation ambitions might slow down the pace of advancement, but cannot stop the country from becoming an innovation powerhouse equaling America.

Since neither country wants a trade or military war, cooperating might be the only way of going forward.

Full article: US cannot stop China’s innovation advancements (Asia Times)

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