Do not make the mistake that China is down and out.
Regardless of what the hype, the media and our illustrious government officials want us to believe, the situation between the United States and China is far from being resolved.
Former President Donald Trump created a global upheaval when he took a no-holds-barred, destroy China position during his presidency. Although that position has created some great fodder for the extreme right-wing to go crazy, in the end, Trump’s myopic approach only made matters worse.
In the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! that dramatizes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is shown conferring with aides on the Imperial fleet’s flagship and saying, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Although evidence the admiral actually said or wrote those words is lacking, the quote nevertheless reflects present U.S.-China relations, with the United States seen as filling China with a terrible resolve.
Like it or not, China is a superpower, and not only militarily. The U.S. government tends to play that down, for the masses. Although the previous administration’s economic attacks had China reeling, for a time, and caused China some economic disruption, once the Chinese get this sorted out, they will return with a vengeance. As did the Japanese military attack on the United States in 1941, so may the U.S. economic attack on China bring unintended consequences and may fill China with interminable resolve to use its vast economic power and technological capabilities to leave the United States in the dust.
It is foolish to suppose that the United States will retake the lead in technology. It may retake the lead in some isolated islands, but in the more visible arenas, such as semiconductors, compute hardware, wireless technology, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, robotics and intelligent anything, China already is ahead of the United States and will remain in the lead.
That is not to say that the United States cannot continue to conduct bleeding-edge research and create a more secure supply chain on U.S. soil and with other nations, such as South Korea, Japan and the Republic of China on Taiwan (for as long as it remains independent). However, it is not beyond comprehension that China may one day take control of Taiwan. If that happens will the United States be willing to go against China’s advanced 21st-century military and its close ally Russia? Note that the relationship between China and Russia has become more chummy, lately. If China takes control of Taiwan, what happens to the fabs the Republic of China plans to build in the United States? What happens with relationships with U.S. allies that also have shunned China?
Another unintended consequence comes from Ericsson. Ericsson has just addressed the decision by the Swedish government to exclude vendors Huawei and ZTE from 5G rollouts. Ericsson is warning that the Swedish government’s actions are affecting its business. This is one of the unintended consequences of the western world’s position with respect to China.
Few western-centric countries have a present capability to supply the ravenous free-world demand for things like semis. To build a U.S.-based, cutting-edge, chip supply chain without government support would take years. Of government support there has been much talk, yet little action. Even with government support and even working with other friendly nations, building such a supply chain would take time. All the while, China is racing at full speed to achieve its diverse roadmap of technological advancements.
For example, a report from GlobalData examined the state of the global chip segment and noted that China is well-positioned to emerge as a key player in chip technology, once China gets back up to speed.
Meanwhile, I have seen, firsthand, the bleeding edge of the technologies that China has put on this fast track of development.
Just as the United States as realigned itself to become more self-sufficient, China has set a target of becoming 70 percent self-sufficient in semiconductor production by 2030. Another interesting revelation is that of the 2,440 Internet of Anything/Everything (IoX)-related patent applications in 2020, China filed 1,683 applications, 69 percent of all filings.
There is no doubt that it will take China a bit of time to unshackle itself from U.S. dependence and regain momentum. Nevertheless, within the next few years, China will come out swinging in a diversity of technological segments.
It appears as though the Biden administration is staying the course with China, at least in the tech space, for the time being, and maybe longer. But who knows what is really going on behind closed doors?
The U.S. trade war with China, coupled with the pandemic, has done nothing but raise the cost of a wide array of goods, from lumber to power semiconductors to steel and more. Should the United States take a hard look at its supply and security chains? Absolutely. Should the United States try to take some of this back to on-shore status? Again, absolutely. And, should the United States try to become independent? Sure, to the best of our ability — but large-scale? That is a lofty goal and it is reaching to think the United States can achieve it on a large scale.
Setting up a trade curtain, particularly in the high-tech space, would not be in the best interests of this country. Patriotism aside, this is not the 1930s. The United States is in a global economic ecosystem and, in the long run, drawing a technological curtain between the United States and China would only hurt the global development of 5G and many other high-tech platforms necessary for interoperable and cooperative global ecosystems.
Ernest Worthman is an executive editor with AGL Media Group, a senior member of IEEE and an adjunct professor at the CSU Walter Scott Jr. College of Engineering.