Currently, techno-nationalism is on the rise around the world. Technological power determines the changing seats of the political and economic powers. In order to gain a technological edge or maintain their established edge, some countries are trying to adjust their trade policies, supply chain management, export controls, investment rules, R&D strategies, and even visa guidelines.
In fact, there emerged two schools of techno-nationalism and techno-globalism in the 1980s and 1990s. Drastically different views were offered on how governments should direct technology investments and shape the competitive environment and supply chains for the benefit of their businesses and people. Techno-nationalists believe that national interests can be maximized by protecting and subsidizing some domestic firms and restricting technological cooperation with other countries. Conversely, techno-globalists argue that restricting external investment and market opportunities, or driving away talents will prevent domestic access to global innovation dynamics and pose greater risks to the country.
The current rise of techno-nationalism has been generated by both objective and subjective factors. On the one hand, the fourth industrial revolution is around the corner, and new technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, next-generation communication networks (5G), and the Internet of Things are undergoing disruptive changes at the same time. Being ahead is enough for a country to have great technological power, and the first-mover advantage will make it difficult for other countries to catch up quickly. On the other hand, China has become the second largest country after the U.S. in terms of scientific research, and our technological development is still accelerating. The U.S. has chosen to do whatever it can to maintain its technological edge.
Whether it was the technological competition with Japan in the last century or the current one with China, the U.S. was and is trying to maintain its established edge. As a “gate-keeper”, the U.S. will be engaged in techno-nationalism at every important juncture in order to restrict other countries’ access to vital technology and industrial production know-how.
It is important to note that there are still gaps in the overall strength of Chinese companies in science and technology. Among 2019 World Top 500, there are 129 Chinese companies, surpassing the U.S. as the biggest country on the list. However, among the top 50 technology companies, there are 22 American ones and a Chinese one, that is Huawei. While Huawei’s continued investment in R&D has made it one of the world’s largest patent-holding companies, technological breakthrough in the new technological revolution requires global cooperation. Currently, economic inequality, global governance failures, and political opportunism are forcing technological globalism to fade away. The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating this trend, and some countries, including the U.S. and its allies, are trying to control relevant key technologies and supply chains at the expense of economic efficiency. The approaches the U.S. has adopted to crack down on China’s technological development bear many similarities to what it did to Japan in the 1980s and 1990s. What should we do?
First, living in a different era, with a new round of technological revolution in the making, all countries should put aside suspicions and cooperate with each other. Through extensive international exchanges and cooperation among our science and technology enterprises and related sectors, we can reduce global barriers to technology transformation and diffusion, stimulate the technological spillover effect of R&D, and bring into play the “multiplier effect” of research investment to break the technological blockade imposed on us by the U.S. and its allies.
Secondly, compared with the tactics used against Japan 30 years ago, the U.S. has suppressed China much more harshly. In this regard, we still need to adhere to independent research and development in parallel with international scientific and technological cooperation in some projects, and maintain an open attitude toward European and American companies, not only to use the strengths of each other to make up for weaknesses, but also to build trust and eliminate misunderstandings in the process of cooperation.
In recent years, in addition to adopting a list of entities, the U.S. has changed its approach to suppress Huawei: prosecuting Huawei for stealing intellectual property, preventing global chip companies from supplying chips to Huawei, and prohibiting domestic U.S. suppliers from using universal service funds to purchase Huawei equipment. We should buffer the U.S. suppression of our technology enterprises, actively participate in this round of technological revolution and integrate technology into the future development of humanity through global technology cooperation.
Strengthening international cooperation in science and technology, promoting the technological internationalization and economic globalization, and advancing techno-globalism will not only hedge against techno-nationalism, they are also the only choice that China can make to seize the opportunity of the new round of technological revolution and win this technological competition.