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US-China tussle on ideology, technology and geopolitics

WHEN JOE BIDEN held his first press conference as President on March 25th, it took a while to be asked a question about China. The President did not mince his words. “China wants to become the leading country in the world, the richest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world. But that won’t happen on my watch, ”he said.

Biden won the presidential race by running as the antithesis of Donald Trump. But when it comes to China, his playbook is remarkably similar to Trump’s. The Biden government has made it clear that its China policy will be characterized by “stiff competition” between the sectors. As President Xi Jinping appears to have consolidated his power over the party and government, there are three broad areas in which US-China competition will be most felt: ideology, technology, and geopolitics. Jean-Pierre Cabestan, China expert at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the US and China were already in a cold war. “There is fierce technological competition, as well as geostrategic and ideological rivalries. But because of the interdependence between China and the West, this will be a new kind of cold war, ”he said.

On the ideological front, Biden will host a virtual “Democracy Summit” on December 9th and 10th, bringing together leading figures from around 100 countries. It is important for the US to show that the existing system of democratic capitalism is still working. The 2008 financial crisis, the chaotic Trump presidency, and increasing polarization in American politics have weakened Biden’s hand, while China’s economic growth and political stability have shown that democracy is not a prerequisite for development.

While the US portrays the ideological struggle as one between democracy and autocracy, China is about “effective versus ineffective governance” and is ready to offer the world an alternative. China says its method of choosing leaders is much better than the democratic system. It identifies promising young people to lead small towns, then big cities, and then provinces. Only those who demonstrate their abilities will be promoted to national management positions.

As sinologist Jude Blanchette told The New Yorker, Xi’s narrative is that “Western democracy is a path to power struggles, polarization and institutional atrophy,” while the “Chinese political system is demonstratively superior in its ability to deliver practical government results “.

However, the immediate future of the ideological struggle will depend heavily on Europe. China could capitalize on its deep ties to the European economy and capitalize on the long-standing differences between the US and Europe over trade, technology and taxes. Still, Biden’s outreach efforts and Xi’s growing authoritarian tendencies could help the US. “Europe will be a challenge for China,” said Avinash Godbole, China expert at OP Jindal Global University in Haryana. “Great Britain has changed its policy and Germany is also moving away.”

“If the story of August 21st. The region is of vital importance to the United States. The two most populous countries in the world (China and India) and the two most populous nations with a Muslim majority (Indonesia and Pakistan) are located in the Indo-Pacific.

The region is home to seven of the ten largest standing armies in the world. Almost 60 percent of the world’s sea trade is carried out via the Indo-Pacific. According to the US Department of Defense, “the Indo-Pacific is the most momentous region for America’s future”. China is trying to rearrange it through military modernization and predatory economic practices.

For China, however, expanding its influence in its wider neighborhood is a matter of strategic and economic necessity. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the characteristic project of Xi, is essentially an endeavor to establish a maritime and continental zone of influence in the Indo-Pacific Ocean geared towards China.

Taiwan is also at the center of the Indo-Pacific puzzle. China has been quite vocal lately in favor of annexing Taiwan, which would allow it to project power into the western Pacific, threaten Japan and take over the province’s high-quality semiconductor sector. The fate of Taiwan will also determine America’s credibility in the Indo-Pacific.

“So far, Biden has ticked all the boxes in the region by strengthening the US presence through the Quad (India, Japan, Australia and the US) and AUKUS (Australia, UK and US) summits while also ensuring it through the Xi summit that the differences will not escalate into open confrontation, “said Uma Purushothaman, US expert at the Central University of Kerala. “This will reassure countries in the region that are unwilling to accept Chinese hegemony but do not want to get caught up in the rivalry between the US and China.” This rivalry is likely to intensify as China woos the region with its economic might while the US relies on its security standards.

On September 2, Nicolas Chaillan, the U.S. Air Force’s first chief software officer, filed his papers and said he couldn’t stand watching China overtake the U.S. in technological change. “We have no chance of fighting China in 15 to 20 years,” he told the Financial Times, listing China’s advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and cyber capabilities. While some of Chaillan’s claims sound far-fetched, a technological battle is brewing between the US and China, and it could well be the final frontier of the confrontation between the two superpowers.

America’s status as a global superpower depends on maintaining a lead in five key sectors: artificial intelligence, quantum computers, life sciences, semiconductors, and autonomous systems, according to a report by the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center. “These sectors are producing technologies that will determine whether America remains the world’s leading superpower,” the report said.

Biden’s response to the Chinese challenge was a series of laws aimed at increasing research and development spending on high-tech industries. Optimists in the Biden administration hope that the US Innovation and Competition Bill, $ 1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Bill, and $ 2.2 Trillion Build Back Better Bill will enable the US to do better in the technology race .

The Chinese government, meanwhile, is taking control of critical high-tech industries and tech giants like Huawei and Alibaba. In addition, the dependency on foreign suppliers is to be reduced. In 2020, China imported $ 350 billion worth of microchips. It has also learned the lessons of American punitive strikes against Huawei and ZTE.

According to John Lee, senior analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, Berlin, one of the reasons for the tightening of politics towards China’s internet platform giants is to shift resources towards strategic technology development in order to counter the growing pressure on China’s access to such technologies. “Platform giants like Alibaba and Baidu are leading China’s push towards innovative chip design, supporting industry development and partnering with Chinese defense companies,” he said.

The US is also trying to minimize its dependence on products and technologies with Chinese connections. “The best example of the new Cold War is the attempt by the US and China to decouple their economies,” Cabestan said.

Despite intense strategic competition, the US and China could find ways to work together in critical areas such as climate science and global health challenges. The virtual summit in Xi-Biden on November 15th was a promising start. In addition, the two countries will remain economically intertwined for the foreseeable future, despite their efforts to decouple. Bilateral relations are therefore likely to follow the course predicted by Biden’s Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken in his first keynote address on March 3rd: “Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should, collaborative when it can, and adversary when it has to be. The common denominator is the need to engage China from a position of strength. “