Isabelle Hupez | April 19, 2019
Responding To: Debating the Prospects of a New Cold War
A Rebalance of Power: US- China Tensions on the Technological Front
China scholars are increasingly viewing China’s economic and technological progress as the beginnings of a new Cold War with the United States. If this is the case, it is a Cold War dissimilar to that between the United States and the Soviet Union. During the previous Cold War, Washington and Moscow had little to no economic exchange, whereas trade between the United States and China reached USD $635 billion last year. Additionally, academic exchanges between the United States and China are only getting stronger-- a staggering 363,311 Chinese international students studied in the United States this past year. Although there are ideological differences between the two governments, potentially allied countries are not aligning themselves in blocks with either ideological side. Simply speaking, both countries are too intertwined with the global world order and each other to have a U.S.-Soviet style iron curtain that restricts contact between the two nations and their allies.
So then, what are the battle fronts of this new Cold War? In this blog post, I will examine two.
Telecommunications is the industry of information transmission via electromagnetic systems. Whoever controls telecommunications can control the flow of information around the world, and the competition in the telecommunications industry, ostensibly between the companies in the United States and China, dominates the headlines today. The competition right now is about 5G, or 5th Generation, which is the latest generation of telecommunication network that significantly reduces network latency and increases the speed and volume of communications.
Frankly speaking, the United States has already lost the telecommunications competition. Chinese telecom company Huawei is the only company in the world that builds every hardware component of 5G networks in-house. In 2018, Huawei made up 29 percent of the global telecommunications infrastructure market, and was the top vendor in the wireless packet core market. Huawei’s command of 5G network building and low-cost infrastructure make it difficult to compete with. However, the U.S. government suspects the security of Huawei’s networks and Huawei itself as an institution with deep ties to the Chinese government. Right now, this is enough to keep Huawei out of the United States and several European countries, but unless other companies can deliver equal network capabilities at Huawei’s cost, Huawei will dominate the global telecom market.
Artificial Intelligence and Data Collection
Artificial Intelligence is machine intelligence based on algorithmic learning from large data sets. Both the United States and China have clear directives on AI for the coming years. The American directive, known as the American AI initiative, outlines funding allocation and guidelines for AI development in the coming years. Interestingly, the initiative explicitly makes “protecting our [America’s] AI Advantage” one of the five main goals of the program. China’s AI initiative, first mentioned in China’s “Made In China 2025” plan and then later fleshed out in other policy initiatives, aims to make China the AI hub by 2030. These directives look to invest large amounts of capital in “unicorn” or “moonshot” startups as well as academic AI research.
Both the American AI initiative and China’s AI policies show governmental prioritization of AI, specifically in relation to each other, making AI a clear point of importance in a new Cold War. Currently, America is the world leader in AI innovation and research. However, China has natural advantages in AI. Chinese companies have far greater access to citizen data, as well far more data due to population size. This numerical data advantage is critical, and gives Artificial Intelligence developers more accurate products. However, this numerical data advantage may become obsolete with the advancement of quantum computing.
A Cold War, or Simply a Re-balance of Power?
Although it is true both countries may use technology to gather information about or undermine the other, it seems that what scholars are frightened of is the Chinese threat to American technological and intellectual hegemony more than an actual fracturing relationship between the countries. While the former could lead to the latter, this is not inevitable and certainly not ideal. By terming this the “new Cold War,” American scholars are encouraging a more aggressive and sinister view of China’s reemergence-- a view that might in turn encourage hyper confrontation policy that attempts to keep China outside of global world order instead of adjusting to it.
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