As Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US president on Wednesday, many people were asking whether the turbulent US-China technology dispute that has been going on for the past few years will be de-escalated and relations will cool down as he moves into the White House.
Many commentators have expressed the belief that while Biden might not adopt the same hardline approach as former US president Donald Trump, the overall interaction between the US and China will remain unchanged.
In other words, the dispute between the two countries will not end, not even with Biden in charge.
Analyses of many of the mainstream US media companies that were frequently opposed to Trump’s actions, such as the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and CNN, have all come to the same conclusion: It is unlikely that the tensions will change just because Biden takes office.
There are several reasons for this:
First, the US has made forceful use of the key technologies under its control to hit Chinese technology firms, banning their export to China.
In response, China vowed to invest more resources in the development of its own technologies to break the blockade. This means that the US must remain on the cutting edge and defend its lead in the technological competition.
Second, Biden has emphasized that it would be necessary to restore US economic and industrial growth, reinforce the US’ strengths, and reduce its dependence on the Chinese economy.
Referring to these concerns, the US’ mainstream media companies generally share the following views: They reckon that even if Biden were to take a different approach, US-China tensions and the countries’ tendency to decouple their economies are unlikely to change immediately.
This means that the US and China would continue to work toward reducing their economic integration, and constrict high-tech knowledge and technology exchanges.
Even more meaningful from a Taiwanese perspective is that the continuation of the US-China dispute will likely further elevate Taiwan’s role.
The developments of the Internet of Things, big data and artificial intelligence are all based on faster and smaller computer chips.
Therefore, the semiconductor industry is at the center of the US-China dispute.
The ban Washington imposed on Huawei Technologies Co prohibits US companies from trading with the Chinese firm, and also covers non-US companies that uses US technology and knowledge. While this might indeed have been a blow to Huawei, it also led to losses for US companies.
Therefore, there have been proposals that instead of prohibiting transactions with Chinese firms, it would be better for the US to promote cooperation between its own firms and those of its allies, to build a technological and industrial line of defense against China.
Taiwan and South Korea are often named as important allies in these proposal, thanks to their prominent position in the semiconductor industry.
In an opinion article in the New York Times on Dec. 14 last year titled “Pound for Pound, Taiwan is the Most Important Place in the World,” Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley, said: “As the Cold War between China and the United States intensifies, that importance will only continue to grow.”
The reason that Taiwan holds an advantage over South Korea is that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co has superior technology, but does not compete with its US clients like Samsung does, Sharma said.
Although technologies advance on an almost daily basis — today the semiconductor industry might be leading the way, but tomorrow it could be quantum technology or satellite and space technology that play the decisive role — the key to maintaining its status as the “most important place in the world” continues to be Taiwan’s technological strengths and its strategic position.
Therefore, Taiwan and the US signed a scientific and technological cooperation agreement on Dec. 15 last year.
Not only does the agreement emphasize the deepening of technological cooperation between Taiwan and the US, it also stresses the need to develop and expand new collaborative relations between the two nations.
In addition to semiconductors, other fields — such as Earth science, astrophysics, long-term ecological research and space and satellite technology — are also mentioned in the agreement.
It also highlights the urgent need to establish a legal framework to enable and promote joint scientific research, which would spur innovation, and ensure research integrity and the protection of intellectual property rights.
The agreement is not only a diplomatic achievement, it is also a technological and economic achievement.
Chiang Ya-chi is an associate professor of intellectual property law at National Taipei University of Technology.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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