Geopolitical dynamics display remarkable volatility, often unfolding at a pace that challenges our capacity for complete understanding. Recent events, such as the BRICS enlargement and the G-20 summit in Delhi, have underscored this unpredictability.
In this ever-changing geopolitical landscape, the technology sector has become the focal point of competition between nations. Whether it is cloud computing, semiconductor manufacturing, cyber security, or artificial intelligence, intense competition has arisen, with countries vying for supremacy on this new battlefield. This ultimately leads to the politicization and weaponization of technology.
As the COVID-19 pandemic approached its end, the impact on humanity is gradually diminishing. However, cooperation between major nations has not fully resumed, and technology restrictions continue to impede collective progress.
In August, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order effectively prohibiting U.S. investments in three critical technology sectors in China: semiconductors, quantum information technologies, and artificial intelligence. While the move has the potential to escalate tensions between the United States and China, U.S. officials have emphasized that these prohibitions are primarily aimed at addressing “the most acute national security risks.”
On September 13, the European Union initiated an investigation into Chinese subsidies for electric vehicles, aiming to prevent a potential influx of inexpensive imports. Electric vehicles encompass not just manufacturing but also advanced technologies like batteries, electric drive systems, and autonomous driving. Chinese electric vehicle companies have faced significant challenges when expanding globally. China has argued that its competitive edge in the sector doesn’t solely stem from subsidies, and Chinese officials urged the EU to take an objective perspective when assessing Chinese electric vehicles.
There are countless similar limitations and bans that can apply to various fields beyond just technology. These restrictions can be driven by a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons is national security concerns. The utilization of technology from other nations might compromise the data and privacy of citizens, posing potential threats to national security. Another reason could be rooted in economic competition. The widespread adoption of foreign products could diminish the demand for domestically produced goods, potentially harming the national economy. A third motive might be the pursuit of technological hegemony, where nations vie for dominance in the technological arena.
The repercussions of imposing technological bans are immeasurable. Economically, such measures can disrupt supply chains both domestically and globally, leading to increased costs and impeding technological innovation. Moreover, from a security perspective, they can contribute to the fragmentation of cyberspace, heightening the risk of technological warfare.
We must also acknowledge that imposing technology bans can sometimes yield counterproductive results. In late August, Huawei unexpectedly unveiled its latest smartphone, showcasing how Chinese companies adeptly navigate and overcome U.S. sanctions. Paul Triolo, the Technology Policy Lead at the Albright Stonebridge Group, described the new phone as “a major blow to all of Huawei’s former technology suppliers, mostly U.S. companies.”
This situation raises questions about the effectiveness of a containment strategy. U.S. policymakers appear to have misjudged the essence of technological development, under which companies prioritize their own pursuit of faster progress over containing the development of competitors. In the case of Huawei, the United States did not effectively hinder the Chinese giant’s technological advancement; instead, the restrictions acted as a catalyst for the development of domestic technology, resulting in significant leaps in technological growth. Such unintended outcomes emphasize the need for joint efforts.
Hence, it is imperative that we enhance global cooperation, which can not only foster mutual economic growth but also facilitate the sharing of technological advancements and the assurance of collective security. There are always areas where multinational collaboration is essential for achieving success, such as space exploration and climate action. Collaborative initiatives like the construction of the International Space Station and the reinforcement of global climate change research signify immense potential for future cooperation among major powers.
To strengthen global collaboration, we can actively pursue the following strategies:
First, promoting science and technology diplomacy. There’s a pressing need to champion technological diplomacy by promoting synergy between policymakers and tech industry leaders. While governments prioritize national security, sovereignty, and public welfare, tech enterprises are driven by innovation, market reach, and profit. Collaboration can strike a balance to safeguard national interests without hindering innovation.
Second, enhancing unofficial diplomacy. It’s vital to amplify the role of informal diplomacy in advancing dialogue and partnership, particularly through Track II diplomacy. Such a method, which operates beyond the conventional avenues, is adept at fostering adaptability and resolving global issues. This was evident on September 7, when the Taihe Institute organized a significant book launch in Beijing. A diverse panel from China, the United States, and Europe convened to emphasize the urgency of regulating artificial intelligence for achieving global governance. Such gatherings should be frequent, guiding officials to recognize the insights of intellectuals and researchers.
Third, setting universal standards and mechanisms. Particularly in the tech and cyber arenas, there’s an imperative for universal and consistent standards. As Dr. Thorsten Jelinek, a former associate director at the World Economic Forum, highlighted in his book “The Digital Sovereignty Trap,” open markets and equitable competition, coupled with the internet’s collaborative nature, underscore the significance of contemporary global collaboration through standardized norms. Such collaboration boosts innovation, especially when there is a framework of uniform regulations stemming from businesses, industries, alliances, or nations.
The unification of tech standards and protocols could smooth the path for better collaborations and system compatibility. Historically, the International Telecommunication Union has been instrumental in standardizing telecommunication protocols, guaranteeing global compatibility. Such efforts can now extend into the 5G realm.
In today’s intricate geopolitical setting, underscored by rapid technological evolutions, the urgency of nurturing an international collaborative mindset is paramount. As nations grapple with shifting power dynamics and technological frontiers, it is not the solitary pursuit of a single entity or state that will define our future. Rather, it’s a collective endeavor that beckons governments, the tech industry, and individuals to step forward.
It is only through mutual dialogue, understanding, and a shared commitment that we can lay the foundation for a future that is technologically advanced yet remains bound by principles of trust, unity, and shared geopolitical objectives.