Has America already won the New Cold War?
When it comes to technology, the US has an insurmountable lead over China
Does China’s technological prowess makes it a more “formidable foe” than the USSR ever was? Following a year of on-off lockdowns across the West, the world is now waking up to the country’s lofty position in the post-pandemic order. Last year, China’s was the only major economy to grow; its lunar mission was a success; its naval fleet continued to expand; and it emerged triumphant from trade negotiations with the Trump White House. On next generation technologies like quantum computing and 5G, it is a world leader.
No wonder, then, that there is talk of a ‘New Cold War’.
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However, as the academic Michael Kwet points out in Roar magazine, this is a misleading picture. America remains dominant. “A closer look at the tech ecosystem”, he writes, “shows that US corporations are overwhelmingly dominant in the global economy.” Kwet looks at the work of the economist Sean Starrs:
Kwet argues that it’s a mistake to think that the United States and China are equal competitors when it comes to technological supremacy:
Outside of China or America, if you are using a computer, there’s a good chance that the software, hardware and network connectivity of the device you’re using is owned or was created by an American company:
A combination of China’s extraordinary economic growth and signs of US stagnation (gerontocratic leadership, continuing racial strife, military disasters) may have blinded many commentators to America’s enduring strengths. The building blocks of Empire in the 21st century — fibre-optic cables, cloud server farms, elite software programmers — are controlled by a handful of mostly US-based corporations. Don’t be surprised if the ‘New Cold War’ is over before it’s even begun.
We could make a start by stopping training Chinese students in our universities for high tech degrees, and forbid any technology transfer deals with Western companies and China.
Yes indeed, spot on!
Why feed the Crocodile!
I agree that some specific things should be done about the terms on which technology transfer is allowed. I flatly disagree about training students. That would hurt the UK more than you can imagine. We should allow absolutely anyone from anywhere to take any degrees they choose here. What we should ensure is that UK universities do not become beholden to foreign nations’ money.
That would hurt the UK more than you can imagine.
Prashant, your comment earlier is a good one. But this one is very vague. Why would the UK be hurt to such an unimaginable level? Inflow of money for the universities? Other than that, I find it hard to guess where the damage is.
Yes. It’s one of those things, like asking “why did you vote to leave the EU”, obvious (to me anyway) but difficult to articulate without half an essay, and then a full scale to and fro ding-dong of arguments. Another time perhaps, btl in another article.
If you are choosing leaving the EU as an example of an obvious choice, then you have an unusual concept of the meaning of obvious. And I say that as someone who was glad we got out.
It seems untrue to say that large numbers of foreign students studying freely in a country`s university system are an unmitigated benefit, as it is a complex mixture of pros and cons.
This weaker statement seems to me – obvious!
I suppose it was obvious to me because I didn’t come cold to the debate – I thought the EU was not a good thing for us years before the referendum came along, so I had already done all the pro and con stuff ages before in my head. Ditto China, which is a bit of an obsession for me.
Ok, large numbers of foreign students *do* pose risks, not least the possibility that they can embed sleepers who stay on for employment in the UK with the eventual aim of spying. But the UK cannot behave in the same way as a country like China or the US. The risk of students is very much outweighed by the risks of closing off to the world – and making exceptions for certain countries like China would be used as ammo to project damaging counter-messaging – for example building on “the century of humiliation” narratives, which will ultimately damage us more. This is just one argument for not shutting off to China, amongst dozens.
I believe to survive and thrive in the 21st century as a medium sized power punching well above it’s weight, we in the UK need to play this with eyes wide open to risks, but with cognizance of soft power projection, play with strategic savvy if you like, so we can provide counter-narratives to the big powers without burning bridges.
The “century of humiliation” inferiority complex of the Chinese is just that: China’s problem. I, for one, am unperturbed by their counter-messaging, as you put it, but I do agree that Britain should welcome students of other countries.
But a high proportion of overseas students from just one country leads universities to become beholden to that foreign nations’ money
But it needn’t be from one country. Students come to the UK from everywhere. What the government needs to ensure is that no research institutions are bought off by a single country. Some of that is sadly unavoidable as China’s power rises – China will buy not just some of our companies but some of our people too – it’s just human nature and big power politics. We just need to be aware of risks and manage them by multiple means.
There is no such thing as an insurmountable lead. China’s political system is, at one level, secondary. China is showing all the signs of following a curve similar to first Japan, and then S. Korea, the other Confucian countries – different but sharing many characteristics, economically, demographically and culturally. But China is ten times the size. That in itself is going to create effects not previously seen. But from the effects already known, there is every reason to be extremely wary. Before deflation set in in Japan, stock market capitalisation there briefly reached levels rivalling the US around 1990 – and that is a nation a fraction the size of the US. There is no question that the Chinese are set to hack the world on a scale not imaginable. The advanced nations can probably protect themselves (just about) but the rest of the world has no chance. And simply to prevent the rest from falling under the influence of Chinese coercion, it is quite possible that the west will be forced to follow suit and hack the rest of the world too.
All very well as long as it stays an economic struggle. I have seen nothing in the US forces to suggest that apart from decent kit they have anything to commend them .Politically correct armies do not win battles. We know what wins battles and it is not correct gender balance or any fashionable Western obsession. Listening to Biden recently going on about maternity suits for US pilots must have made the Russians and Chinese laugh . Against poorly armed Middle Eastern tribesmen the US performs badly. Against well armed Chinese forces I would not be optimistic.
It might be what you sell, it it also might be what information you extract from what you do sell.
those pregnancy uniforms? The whole open the border to show compassion? This sounds like the Playbook of Germany. I wonder if Mc Kinsey Consulting is phoning it in and re-selling their advice to the Biden administration?
After all, Ursula Von der Leyen got a great job promotion after improving the German army, with tanks and guns that did not work, and planes that did not fly, with pregnancy uniforms for women and for trans men. So she overspent just a tad on consulting firms—the brewing scandal got her a job promotion! And what is not to love about having your departments run by just out for school graduate students like the very expert Chelsea Clinton and Pete Butigieg, among the fine examples of Mc Kinsey consultants?
My money is on the plucky Mc Kinsey late 20 somethings to pluck our chestnuts from the fire! Let’s just buy some more recycled consulting? *To be fair, I am not sure of all the consulting firms Germany may have used, but Mc Kinsey did a lot of work for them.
This is an optimistic assessment but perhaps not too far from the truth.
Here’s a link to a recent youtube post by Ian Bremmer of Gzero. I find he rarely has anything original to say about the US, but he’s pretty good on China and Russia. In this video he reacts to a Bill Maher piece where Maher predicts the inexorable rise of China and decline of the US. Bremmer lists China’s major weaknesses and it’s a very substantial list.
Still, I can’t help thinking the US has a good chance of collapsing from within given the political lunacy in our country and the terrible state of our higher education system which we rely on to train the next generation of scientists and business leaders.
There can be no doubt the Left in USA hates the nation and is out to destroy it, even though it will take them with it. Their loathing is a pathological hatred, coupled with a lemming like wish to self harm. One only has to look at Biden’s short time as President to see every policy is in that direction.
Disagree. The left is narcissistic, and most of their policies are self-righteous moralistic commands, rather than hard-headed, reasoned ideas.
For all the thoroughly merited concern about higher education in the US, Chinese with the money are queuing up to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to learn there. Maybe they’re not so very much smarter after all. And if they’re not careful the bat(sh*t) virus of Critical Race Theory will escape from its American breeding grounds and start to infect their body politic.
The CCP will never tolerate CRT. Anyone who tries to introduce CRT into China will be quickly dispatched to the labour camps.
The US gift of extensive prosperity has allowed many to be consumed in idle nonsense – navel gazing perhaps. Thus great efforts to be excited over the color of school chairs (not really, but …). The Chinese are highly motivated toward success and greater prosperity. They are quite willing to work and do work hard. But as long as central planners dominate China and individuals are suppressed, the US holds an advantage because of individual autonomy. Militarily the two may be on-par, thus creating risk. Whether Chinese military kit will hold up after hard use may be questionable. But the economic interdependence ought to keep the prospects of direct conflict low. Let’s hope the Chinese don’t get too overconfident.
China plays a long game. In many ways America is moving to become more Chinese-communist like, adopting policies that benefit China – for instance switching from fossil fuels to solar and battery energy (Chinese dominated), offshoring manufacturing to China, especially hi-tech devices like iPhones, providing technology and education to Chinese researchers and seeing Chinese companies starting to dominate in some sectors.
Trump briefly put a spoke in the wheel, but it seems that under Biden China is showing signs that it now feels unencumbered having regained its leverage over American politics – again something it’s played for a long time, as spies in Feinstein and Swalwell’s offices show (and clearly China will have documents on the deals made with Hunter Biden, and, given his proclivities, perhaps more). Woke culture has many many echoes of lessons learned about political control from the Cultural Revolution. The lack of press outrage of Chinese human rights abuses (eg Hong Kong, Ughar, Tibet) suggests a press already in Chinese pockets, as do Hollywood’s Chinese friendly films. The press this week is starting with stories that being anti-Asian American is the new growing racism.
And last week the American military were suggesting that if China invaded Taiwan, the US wouldn’t have a successful response. Chinese influence in Africa is strengthening. The strength of the Chinese economy means it will slowly dominate South East Asia. The spat with Australia over coal, indicates China knows it now has economic muscle, and it will be targeting key technologies (eg Huawei and 5G, Alibaba, virus studies) – not all technologies.
Does it matter? Historically China hasn’t been expansionist like the Europeans. However, it would also depend if you are worried about being controlled by a technocratic system of government, where wrong-opinions are censored, having to play along to a single approved political viewpoint, where outliers are cancelled, with a pro-establishment media, and limited scope for freedom of thought. There again, perhaps we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference…
“If you wish for Peace, prepare for War”, as the most successful Empire in History said.
The anti-Asian racism BS is particularly galling. There has been a dramatic uptick in violence in the US against all types of people – perhaps inspired by antifa/BLM defunding police efforts and the Chinese Flu. And yet the media can only find racism everywhere.
The term “technology” is very vague. While the US are currently much stronger on innovation than China, this is not immutable. Google, Facebook, Windows et al. do not possess any technology that could not be quickly replicated in quality or even surpassed – it is their market dominance and the fact that much of the world is locked in in their systems that makes them strong rather than some inherent American genius.
In that light, China’s decision to replace domestically Western tech giants with initially inferior locally designed platforms makes a lot of strategic sense. I can’t stand Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google (although it works fine for the Chinese), but consider Tencent’s Wechat much better than Facebook/Whatsapp. Also, the surprising rise and rise of TikTok shows that the Chinese can also revolutionise the tech landscape. How what they come up with fares globally will be determined by geopolitics rather than engineering success.
And in terms of geopolitics, there is currently nothing even approaching the scale and ambition of China’s Belt and Road project. What seems to be happening is that China, rather than engaging in a cold or any other kind of war with the US, is building an alternative economic network. The US might soon find that the competition of the kind they are used to and excel at is fast becoming obsolete.
US forces cannot even defeat Afghani tribesmen equipped with nothing more than basic weapons and a degree of ingenuity and belief. Their IT systems are regularly hacked by Russia etc. China has 40,000 km of high speed train track, the US has not a single km of high speed train track. Any proficiency at math in US schools is described as ‘white privilege’. US politicians routinely condemn thousands to death by putting people with Covid into care homes.
Bill Maher laid all this out at length last week in a routine that has been watched almost two million times.
The US response? Maternity uniforms for fighter pilots…
“China has 40,000 km of high speed train track, the US has not a single km of high speed train track.”
Only the Boston-DC corridor would be helped with high speed rail. The rest of the US is too large and too thinly populated with too little local public transport to make it worthwhile.
New York – Chicago ? LA – San Francisco – Seattle ? Boston – NY – Washington DC – Miami ? These are all highly feasible routes, and there are many others. How about NYC – Toronto ?
Ah, the ‘Milwaukee Road’, the fastest railway in the world 1935-41.
Start to stop averages of over 80mph with steam engines that made the British L.N.E.R. look like a snail.
US forces can, and frequently have, easily defeated Afghani tribesmen. US governments, reflecting the lack of resolve, or possibly interest, of the American people, have failed to convert tactical superiority into political victory.
During the Cold War, US tech was constrained by a variety of factors to be protectionist and “patriotic”. Few such constraints exist now. Zuck would sell his mother to the CCP and his father to the Kremlin, if he could. Gates would sell his wh0ile family to anyone while Google will run ads about it anywhere they can. No, they don’t build bombs. But they manipulated minds. Pick your poison.
An interesting thing is to do a search on IQ by nation, if you have been about in the world I would not be surprised if it is not that different to what you would have guessed. China is well above the West.
But then there is creativity Index, and it is pretty apparent, taking in law, politics, invention, philosophy, science, art, music, literature, travel, religion, university, that the West has a huge edge. Something in us just is better in that than anyone else, and I put it to the remarkably intellectual Christianity which we arose from, Barbarians wile much of the Far East was ‘civilized, to world’s top thinkers.
Was better but now is not. We have in Britain an ignorant people made more ignorant by an appalling education system . I have often talked to young Chinese students from Hong Kong and the mainland. They are in a different league .
The 14 Ohio class Ballistic Nuclear Submarines and their 336 Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles will blow China back into the Stone Age. Have no doubt about it, they have nothing to counter it.
China has a surplus of young men and will accept losses in battle on a scale the West will not. You sound as if you are advocating a nuclear first strike on China. That will make the US a pariah state for generations and as China has nuclear weapons as well will destroy the world . Then it is an empty threat and can safely be ignored.
Wasn’t that Mao’s boast, that he could take 300 million dead and still fight on?
China’s Nuclear weapons may well devastate SE Asia but nothing more. They are incapable of hitting the Continental United States or CONUS as they like to call it.
As to the US being a “pariah state”, so what? ‘You don’t argue with a state that has 14 Ohio’s at its back’.
Finally did I get a hint of MAD in your reply? Well it’s nonsense, a piece of outdated socialist piffle dreamt up in the 60’s.
Finally the US is very experienced in choreography, making itself appear the injured party. “Remember the Maine”, Pearl Harbour-“Day of Infamy”, and 9/11 for example.
“You can’t dig much coal with bayonets.”
The Soviets collapsed which is somewhat different.
In any event they would have been blown off the face of the earth, with very little if any collateral damage to the CONUS.
But the USA has Biden. That is worth a thousand points to anybody else
What about the Biden – Putin debate?
What would be the goal for China in a “new Cold War”? As opposed to the USSR, China appears to have no desire to export its political philosophy. Historically, China has always seemed to be very self-centered — with the “self” being the ruling group or the population itself. If their goal is to militarily and economically protect China and to extend their influence and not their borders in order to guarantee a long-term safety, what is the causus belli for a Cold War?
That is how I see it. It seems as if China lost out against the West in the 17th century because life for the ruling class was too comfortable and nobody saw the West coming. . Now China is confident that it can survive and prosper and even out run the West . The more we go on about Hong Kong and Taiwan the more baffled they seem. They are Chinese therefore part of China. Maybe China has imperial dreams. I doubt it though .
I agree that it seems foolish and very “Cold War-ish” not to recognize that Taiwan is part of China. Likewise, not recognizing Hong Kong as China is clearly a remnant of colonialism. I don’t know the history, but China certainly does, so I’ll take their word that Tibet was originally China’s territory. Aside from perhaps a few ancient and on-going border disputes over fairly useless land, China and the CCP seem perfectly happy with simply protecting their historical borders and running their country the way it has always been run.
Don’t take their word, unless you are staisfied with CCP propaganda. Do some historical research and you’ll discover that Taiwan was never part of China and Tibet was independent for centuries, even ruling a large part of China at one time.
It is curious that the article cited does not consider public transport in the “transportation” list. The comparison between Amtrak and Chinese high-speed rail does not bear looking at! And if online advertising is what you need to win a war, I’ll eat my hat!
It would be interesting to hear if the Chinese business and political elites agree that they are doomed to defeat at the hands of the US.
Anyway, if Taiwan gets invaded or otherwise is forced to join up with the mainland, they can console themselves that their allies have the best SMS.
China has invaded Taiwan? Just wait until I get on Twitter and Facebook!
Imperial Japan used to think like that, and look where it got them.
This article seems to be based on one source quoting 2013 numbers.
This actually really discouraging as the US insists on exporting white self flagellatio/critical race theory
A lot of this is American paranoia, and resentment against a country which will inevitably move into the no 1 economic spot, (notwithstanding the mass of China collapse stories since China as no 1 started becoming a possibility, around 2000 or 2005). I think it would be more useful to look at the possible upside from a strong, growing China – which is what we’ve got and what we are going to have for the foreseeable – rather than ways of blowing China up. But those kinds of thoughts are probably too much for many.
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