China-US Slugfest Towards New Tech-Cold War Multiplex

By – Nafisa Nazin Lutfa and Rafayat Ahmed Shanto;

Indo-Pacific, the nucleus of world politics, concerns the global powers regarding its oceanic space, the land space, and even the facts beyond the space. Indo-Pacific signifies itself with the competition among major powers in the aspects of technology, trade, culture, and security.  The competition between the US and China and their alliances in Indo-Pacific is identically projecting a cold-war syndrome. From a casual thought, the new cold war might be seen as a lazy label because it lacks the present geopolitical context of world politics. However, the Indo-Pacific region projected characteristics similar to the Cold War phenomena, where it is a resuscitating experience of the international realm, in the same way, anarchy promises to energize the multiplex. Many academics are doubtful that the Cold War has ended at all. In many areas, from regional politics to outer space and beyond, the Cold War legacy lingers on. The new multiplex cold war includes competition in the Indian Ocean (formation of QUAD), US’s pivot to Asia, legacies of the cold war with the new alliance of ‘democratic Anglosphere” in the 21st century replacing the old ‘Anglo-Saxon tutelage,’ institutional and territorial conflicts, multiple militaries and defense arrangements by the US and China, and the emergence of a chemical, and cyber and technological war.  In light of this, it becomes reasonable to look into the underlying phenomenon that suggests Indo-Pacific is becoming a new Cold War zone. Taking this into perspective, how are the United States and China confronting each other in the tech industry, and how is it developing a new tech-Cold War Multiples in the Indo-Pacific region?

Complementary Tactics: Technology and Military 

It is very much conceivable that the domain of technology has competed as equally as military, economy, and culture in the “new multiplex cold war.” On a special note, it has to be informed that technologies like 5G and microchips semiconductors are decisive to the development of the post-modern military. The technological competition between the global powers is nothing new, but rather an old one exampling the competition over nuclear and space technology between the US and USSR in the Cold War era. The technological competition in the Cold War was a bio-polar one, entirely between the US-bloc and the Soviet bloc. However, in the post-cold war era, new technological innovations (5G, microchips, Artificial Intelligence- AI, and drones) coupled with the neo-liberal interdependency in the global supply-chain fall into the realities of the new multiplex cold war in a multipolar world – hence, construct a ‘technological cold war multiplex.’ 

Enhancing Resilience

China has become the unstoppable force and the US as the immovable object in this war. Chinese expansion is sometimes described as an unstoppable force, and the neoliberal world order has clearly benefited China in this way. However, there are significant manifestations that would vouch for the claim of a tech cold war multiplex. To be accurate, the US and China are the chief competitors in the tech cold war matrix. Uncloaking two ambitious projects of China: “Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)” and “Made in China 2025,” it is clear that China is up for an extraordinary venture. The second one, ‘Made in China 2025,’ aims to make China self-reliant on high-end technology and its production, such as electric cars, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and advanced communications. It is assumed that these ambitious stances of China throughout the years made the US worry about their position in the global hierarchy; hence, the Trump administration raised the trade war against China. The Export Reform Act (ERC) enacted by the US in 2018 threatens to blacklist any company or institution that would use American tools or technologies to manufacture Huawei. As both the US and China are the linchpins of the global supply chain, the other countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa are being forced to choose sides. 

The US and China are engaged in a tech-cold war using their giant tech companies. The US accuses China of Intellectual Property-IP theft and data privacy breaches in social media. China’s IP theft is discernible with their Alibaba for E-bay, We Chat for Whatsapp and Facebook, and Twitter for Weibo. Regardless of America’s IP theft accusations on China, America involves itself in copying Chinese apps like Tik Tok to arrange alternatives such as Instagram Reels, Triller, and Byte. Nevertheless, Huawei would be the largest distributor to connect the world in a 5G network if American did not ban it. Huawei was supposed to give the technical support for 5G in Europe (notably Germany, UK, and France). The Export Reform Act (ERA) by the US restricts its western allies from dealing with Huawei.

Beyond Tyranny of Hard Power

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the sole supplier of microchip semiconductors to cutting-edge-tech companies like Apple, Nvidia, Media Tek, and Qualcomm in America. The semiconductors microchips are said to be the mother of all big-science technologies like fighter jets, auto-mobile industries, artificial intelligence, spying drones, and computers. Taiwan, for its TSMC, is of great strategic importance to America and China and its tech companies. As TSMC uses American technologies, resources, and equipment for manufacturing chips, the ERA makes TSMC cut off its deal with Huawei. On the other hand, Huawei was entirely dependent on TSMC for making its products. For the cancellation of the deal, TSMC and Huawei both faced losses. Also, multiple American companies lost their businesses in China because of the legislative rule.

Taiwan’s dominant position in producing semiconductor chips jeopardizes its security, thus triggering the risk of getting annexed by China. Its historical claim on the island backs China’s idea of invading Taiwan. The ‘Greater China’ and ‘One China Policy’ being central to Chinese foreign policy seems like a vehement threat to the US. Taking the ‘Greater’ and ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ into account, the US with its allies (Japan, Australia, France, South Korea) has a consistent military presence in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. Furthermore, as an alternative plan, the US is placing its bid on Samsung and Erickson and expecting several other players to fill the possible unexpected void of TSMC. On its mission to become self-reliant on high-end technological production, China bolstering its chip-manufacturing company SMIC (a public-private partnership) to beat America’s high science technology and TMSC’s manufacturing technology. However, SMIC is still a cradling baby to American giants like Apple, Qualcomm, and Taiwanese TSMC. 

The “China-Problem”

Complex alliance is what makes the cold war multiplex. For the sake of economy and neo-liberalism, most South-East Asian countries, including Japan, rely on each other and China’s economy. India is the system integrator for Huawei, is not an exception in the technology-trade symbiotic relationship. Indian A-1 IT firms like TCS, Infosys, and Tech Mahindra work with Huawei. India’s Bharti Airtel and Vodaphone count on their 4G and 5G services contracts with Huawei. Bharti Airtel and Vodaphone Idea are reported loss because of India’s ban on Huawei. Balancing the steelyard of cost and benefit with Nokia, Samsung, and Erickson for Huawei, would not be a coherent choice for Indian companies. Moreover, South Korea is one of the major exporters of chips and other technologies to China.

Despite all that, India, Japan, and South Korea have chosen sides with the USA in the techno-cold war by joining the D-10. India, on the excuse of ‘national security risk,’ banned Huawei and ZTE in 2020. India banned more than 50 Chinese apps over the border confrontation in LAC (Line of Actual Control), killing more than 20 Indian soldiers. Considering the possibility of a Taiwan war, Japan is very eager to set up a TSMC subsidiary in Japan. South Korean company Samsung has a plan to expand its chip factory in Arizona, US.

Karl Haushofer predicted the constant great power conflict between the Anglo-Saxon alliance (UK, USA, France) and the non-Anglo-Saxon alliance (China, Russia, Germany). Karl Haushofer had been right all along with the cold war rivalry between the US and USSR from 1945 to 1990 and now the new cold war multiplex between the US and China. The recent cold war multiplex pivot to Indo-Pacific has different layers of competition in technology, economy, trade, culture, and complexities in alliance making. 

The techno-cold-war-multiplex being the most crucial aspect of the new cold war matrix aims to contain China. US has planned to contain China’s maritime rise with the formation of QUAD and the universalist stance of nobody’s ocean. Furthermore, now, it has planned to contain China’s technological advancement with the appearance of D-10. The new cold war multiplex is a distinct one from the Cold War because of several reasons. The technological semiconductor microchip race replaces the nuclear arms race. But the democratic anglosphere in D-10 and QUAD lacks the Anglo-Saxon kinship like it is in NATO. That is what makes it the new cold war multiplex and lets the uncertainty takes the grip. Accepting the urge of neo-liberal inclination to trade realism, the rise of China in technology will definitely exhaust the US in the long run. And an exhausted America would someday recall the words of Napoleon: “Let China sleep; when she wakes, she will shake the world.”

Nafisa Nazin Lutfa is currently, working as a teaching assistant at the Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP). She is postgraduate student at the Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) with a major in International Relations. National politics, international political economy, security studies, and public policy are all areas of research and interested.

Rafayat Ahmed Shanto is currently a research intern at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), a government think tank in Bangladesh. He is perusing his Masters in International Relations from Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP).

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