Will US-China technology competition change course under Biden administration?
Published: Feb 18, 2021 09:06 PM

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Science and technology is one of the most important strategic pillars in maintaining US hegemony and will impact the competition between China and the US, which remains a perpetual theme irrespective of who occupies the Oval Office. 

What is variable is whether the Biden administration will continue the previous Trump administration's strategy to weaponize technology?

Approaching Biden's one-month mark in office, US think tanks are offering counsel and attempting to guide the US' tech war against China. 

A recent report "Asymmetric Competition: A Strategy for China & Technology" conducted by the China Strategy Group(CSG), a think tank lead by former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt, suggested Washington conduct "asymmetric competition" against China and push "bifurcation" in technology field - taking US dollar settlement, social media, search, mobile application stores, and mobile instant messaging as the focus of its pursuit of the dual benefits of strategy and value - reflecting the interests of major US technology companies.

In its tech game against China, the US has formed more systematic, structured and refined strategic framework. An administration populated by insiders and career politicians, the Biden administration's policy will more likely to refer to such reports, making its policies more predictable. China should be prepared a greater degree of systematic consideration. 

Biden has for the first time raised the science advisor post to a Cabinet level. Will China-US tech game have fundamental changes? A closer look into the inner logic of the tech competition between the two countries may offer a clue to the question.

For starters, no matter who is the US President, the US' core strategy in technology development will base on two common views among the US elites. First, the US elites won't allow China to rise to become a technology competitor. Second, US elites believe the US has the ability to contain China in technology. 

Therefore, US' crackdown on China in technology will not cease in short term.

China technological development has started to show strength, especially in 5G and mobile payment. Over the next decade, China's technology development will likely pose challenge to US companies in broader fields. 

China's determination in further boosting national strategic scientific and technological strength will give push the country's technology development and push China-US tech competition to a new level.

The Biden administration's move in containing Chinese tech development will be different from the Trump administration. First, US' new approach will be more calculated and interest-oriented. 

American high-tech companies have huge interests in the Chinese market. Unlike the Trump administration's consideration of simply cracking down on Chinese companies, Biden will more focus on how to open up the Chinese market to American companies.

Second, the Biden administration is less likely to take measures that lack moral support, including Canada's arbitrary detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and the US government's repression of TikTok. However, the US is expected to continue containing Huawei's 5G development and containing China's development of high-end chips. 

Third, the Biden administration will more likely leverage more strength from its allies to conduct tech containment against China, and jointly restrict China's access to high-end equipment and technology.

The author is director of the Center for Internet and Society at Zhejiang University of Media and Communications and founder of Beijing-based technology think tank ChinaLabs.