News Highlights: Former Google CEO and others argue for ‘bifurcation’ of the technology between the US and China
A new series of proposals from a group of influential DC insiders and tech industry practitioners calling for some degree of “bifurcation” in the US and Chinese technology sectors is circulating in the Biden administration. Axios has obtained a copy.
Why It’s Important: The idea of ’decoupling’ certain sectors of the US and Chinese economies felt radical three years ago, when Trump’s trade war brought the term into common parlance. But now the strategy has a growing bipartisan and even industry support.
The report, dubbed “Asymmetric Competition: A Strategy for China & Technology, ”Is written by an informal working group formed last summer with 15 participants writing in their own capacities, including:
- Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and technical advisor at Alphabet. (Google left China in 2010 while Schmidt was CEO).
- Jared Cohen, CEO of Jigsaw, a tech incubator created by Google, and a former advisor to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.
- Richard Fontaine, the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, whose co-founder Kurt Campbell now holds a top position on Biden’s National Security Council.
- Liz Economy, China Scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
- Alexandr Wang, CEO and Founder of Scale AI.
- Marissa Giustina, a quantum electronics engineer at Google.
What They Say: “America’s technological leadership is fundamental to its security, prosperity and democratic way of life. But this vital advantage is now in jeopardy as China looks to overtake the United States in critical areas, ”the authors write.
- The report “promotes policies that position the United States to outperform China without provoking escalating cycles of confrontation, retaliation or unintended conflict.”
The nature of the challenge, according to the report:
- Competition is “asymmetric,” meaning “China adheres to a different set of rules that allow it to take advantage of corporate espionage, illiberal surveillance and a blurred line between its public and private sectors.”
- We are on the way to somewhat technical spheres. “Some degree of disentanglement is both inevitable and preferable,” the authors write. “In fact, trends in both countries – and many of the tools at our disposal – are inherent and necessarily toward some degree of bifurcation.” That’s because the alternative splitting is a world in which China’s non-democratic norms have “won”.
- There will be trade-offs, such as between creating risk-tolerant research environments that encourage innovation versus security / espionage risks.
Their suggested solutions:
- The creation of a national center for technical analysis and forecasting.
- Building more resilient supply chains by investing in domestic infrastructure and ‘ally-centric manufacturing’.
- Improve education and reduce immigration bottlenecks to ensure a strong supply of highly skilled labor.
- A government redesign in the executive branch to lead a ‘new era of technological statesmanship’.
- New multilateral initiatives, including an alliance of democracies called the “T-12” to coordinate responses to technology competition, an “international Technology Finance Corporation ”, and creating“ multilateral zones of trust ”where integration can be safely achieved.
What to look for: Whether or not the proposal is gaining traction in the Biden government, the emphasis on multilateralism is consistent with the government’s goals and priorities.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the authors of the report wrote in their personal capacity.
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