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By TANG XINHUA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-06-25 08:17
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From'small yards with high fences' to 'digital solidarity', the US has intensified its efforts to maintain its tech primacy

Building a technology alliance is the main strategy for the United States to maintain its scientific and technological hegemony under its technopolitik strategic framework. After Joe Biden took office, the US implemented "small yards with high fences" strategy for scientific and technological competition with China, as the first step toward building a technology alliance. The main goal is to restrict the flow of strategic emerging technologies and elements of innovation to rival countries.

However, the US and its allies have a conflict of interests in many areas, such as cross-border data flow asymmetry, digital market subsidies competition and economic security dilemmas. These have severely restricted the depth and stability of transatlantic digital connectivity.

Over the past few years, the US has expended a great deal of diplomatic resources on coordinating the positions of its allies to advance its "small yards with high fences" strategy, which is proving to be costly, difficult and unstable.

In this context, the US is gradually pivoting its strategic path toward building a "multipolar technology alliance", that is, to unite traditional allies, rope in nontraditional allies, and draw in emerging market countries and regions. Instead of controlling the flow of elements of innovation to its competitors, the main goal is to strive for hegemony in new technologies by laying out structural technological power in the context of major-power competition.

Structural technological power is a key variable for shaping the international power system and international landscape in the era of technopolitik and also the foundation for controlling future strategic space. The elements that determine structural technological power include key technological infrastructure, technological supply chain systems and technological ecosystems, and these are the key areas the US-led multi-polar technological alliance is focusing on.

First, at the June 2022 G7 Leaders' Summit, the US and the other G7 members formally launched the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which emphasizes the need to work with partners to strengthen investments in high-standard and high-quality infrastructure projects. The PGI's strategic purpose is to build and strengthen coalitions of partners from Asia to Africa to the Western Hemisphere to improve technology infrastructure in key economic corridors.

The 2023 G7 Summit proposed the construction of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor and the Lobito Corridor in Angola, with a focus on new types of infrastructure such as undersea cables, clean energy grids, and next-generation telecommunication networks to promote connectivity from Europe to Asia.

To crowd out infrastructure investment in rival countries, the G7 has also strengthened the formulation of security rules for critical infrastructure.

The 2023 G7 Summit emphasized the need to strengthen the security and resilience of ICT infrastructure in the digital sphere, including mobile, satellite and core networks, submarine cables, components and cloud infrastructure. It stressed that such infrastructure requires a rigorous evaluation of equipment, consistent with existing measures such as those outlined in the Prague Proposals, and the European Union's 5G toolbox.

Second, the US' goal in reshaping its high-tech supply chain system is to compete for the foundation of power in new technologies and to squeeze the development space of competitors in the new global techno-economic system.

In April 2022, the US proposed to build a "Chip 4 alliance" with Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Chinese island of Taiwan. In December 2022, seven countries including the US, Canada and Australia launched the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance, which sets higher environmental standards for the critical minerals sector and promotes cooperation among the countries in the alliance. In October 2023, 14 partners of the Minerals Security Partnership convened to enhance cooperation, and a restructuring of the critical mineral supply chains is accelerating. On Feb 24, the "Indo-Pacific" Economic Framework Supply Chain Agreement entered into force.

From the perspective of strategic balance, the US is reshaping its hi-tech supply chain system under the rhetoric of "de-risking" and "friendly-shore outsourcing", which will severely disrupt the supply chain networks of major developed countries, regional countries and China, and result in a shift of key supply chains from "networked" to "hierarchical".

Against the backdrop of overgeneralization of security and intensified ideological confrontation, the US' "de-risking" of the technology supply chains, industry chains and value chains will further undermine the strategic balance that has long been established in the Asia-Pacific region.

Third, the technology ecosystem is "soft power" built on the technology infrastructure and technology supply chains. It affects the entire technology supply chain and determines the size of the technology market and industry.

Since the "small yards with high fences" strategy cannot cover all key technology categories, the US has turned to a multipolar technology alliance to compete for structural power in the technological ecosystem. Currently, the country is focused on competition over technology standards and the remodeling of values in technology, etc.

In May 2023, the Joe Biden administration released the National Standards Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies, stating that the strategy would strengthen the US leadership and competitiveness in international standard-setting, and that the fourth major goal is to use its allies to advance the building of the international standard system.

The US strategy of building a technology alliance is pivoting toward a multipolar technology alliance, with the focus shifting from restricting the flow of innovation elements to competitors to scrambling for structural technology power in hi-tech supply chains, digital infrastructure, competition over technology standards, technical rules, etc.

In May 2024, the US Department of State released the US' International Cyberspace and Digital Policy Strategy, which formally put forward the "digital solidarity" strategy of technology diplomacy. This marked the official launch of the US strategy of a "multipolar technology alliance".

Going beyond the scope of a traditional security alliance network, the US strategy of building a multipolar technology alliance aims to choose different combinations of coalitions according to the characteristics of techno-political competition in different fields.

In particular, during the process of choosing specific partners and reshaping the economic security landscape amid supply chain restructuring, selective globalization may become a new trend in global governance.

As a matter of fact, the technology alliance promoted by the US is a combination of hegemony and power politics. The framework of the multipolar technology alliance is based on different political trust levels, which indicates an imbalanced and unequal technological power "food chain".

The "economic security" rhetoric of some Western countries under the banner of "de-risking" is a new manifestation of neoconservatism pursuing the securitization of international economic and technological cooperation. It is also a product of Cold War thinking, bloc politics and bloc confrontation. It will further widen the global technological divide and result in more unbalanced international development and more complex geopolitical relations.

Only by adhering to the concepts of universal security, openness and inclusiveness, promoting the building of a global sci-tech community with a shared future characterized by peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual appreciation, and mutual benefit and win-win outcomes, advancing sustainable global economic and social development through win-win cooperation in science and technology, and transcending differences between civilizations through scientific and technological exchanges and mutual learning, can we achieve lasting peace and common prosperity for the human society.

The author is an associate researcher with the Institute of International Relations and the Institute for Governance Studies at Tsinghua University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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