Key Cooperative Research Institute for Policy Studies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the P.R.C (2022-2024)

Cai Cuihong,“Countering tech fragmenting”


(Source:China Daily,2024-03-19)

In recent years, the phenomenon of technological innovation being influenced by geopolitical factors has become more common, and technological development has shown a trend toward de-globalization and fragmentation. On the one hand, some countries place greater emphasis on localization and autonomy in innovation and application, viewing technology as a fundamental core capability for maintaining national security, with a focus on reconstructing national security strategies. On the other hand, some countries continue technological blockades, isolation, and decoupling, creating technological barriers and forming economic blocs while excluding global cooperation, attempting to gain monopolistic advantages in some emerging technological fields.

This has led to systemic differentiation and fragmentation in some fields, and the competition for governance standards and rules has further fragmented the global technology governance system.

The trend of geopolitical development goes against the natural laws of sci-tech progress, thus artificially raising barriers and thresholds for technological progress, casting a huge shadow of uncertainty on the prospects of global technological development and governance. Maximizing cooperation and sharing globally, optimizing the allocation of research and development resources worldwide, and deepening cooperation in science and technology are essential requirements for global technological advancement.

At the same time, the explosive development in technology and the rapid flow of talent and resources on a global scale make it difficult for a single country or region to maintain an absolute leading advantage in all high-tech fields. Global technological progress demands communication, exchanges, and complementary strengths on a global basis.

However, with intensifying tensions in the field of technology among countries, especially among major technological powers, the de-risking policy guided by geopolitical thinking will also lead to the division and isolation of the global sci-tech system and the increase of the cost of sci-tech innovation. Meanwhile, the development of different technological systems in major countries will inevitably have a long-term impact on future technology research and development, production, application, and standard setting. Against the backdrop of a profound digital divide that still exists globally, the artificially created inconsistent standards and compatibility will inevitably affect the collaborative supervision and governance of global technological development, increase the difficulty of international cooperation in addressing high cost global issues such as climate change and cybersecurity, hinder the collaborative resolution of global crises, and also have an adverse effect on sustainable growth worldwide.

First, in response to the trend of geopolitical development in global sci-tech advancement, countries should abandon the confrontational thinking toward the global technology system, highlight the common risks faced by all humanity, actively participate in and promote technological globalization and expand their opening-up.

As human society is grappling with common challenges such as climate change, the digital divide and poverty, it is essential for all countries to cooperate and solve these global problems through technological means. As a beneficiary and contributor to technological globalization, China is making efforts to realize the sharing of tech innovation achievements and knowledge experience worldwide. China firmly adheres to its opening-up strategy that features mutually beneficial and win-win outcomes. It continues to intensify its high-level opening-up efforts, expand institutional opening-up, enhance the inclusiveness of China's economic growth and technological progress by promoting international sci-tech exchanges and cooperation with more open thinking and measures and creating an innovation climate with global competitiveness, and working together with other countries to build an open, fair, just, and non-discriminatory environment for the development of science and technology.

Second, in the face of geopolitical development in technology, it is necessary to reform and innovate the content, means, and theories of national security. Seeking supply chain security does not mean pursuing complete self-sufficiency. The focus of seeking sci-tech independence and safeguarding national security should be on improving the domestic innovation ecosystem, optimizing the structure and transforming the management model of technological innovation, encouraging scientific research organizations to reform models, so as to obtain original and leading achievements in the next generation of sci-tech innovation, and form unique advantages in key links of the global value chain.

Last, it is imperative to accurately analyze the de-risking or autonomy policies of different countries, and strive to seek consensus with more countries on respecting market laws, maintaining fair competition and promoting sci-tech cooperation. Under the influence of uncertain and unstable factors such as the turbulent international political situation, frequent regional conflicts, unstable world energy supply, and the economic slowdown, the international community generally desires to avoid risks. It is normal to reduce the risk of economic dependence by diversifying supply chains. However, the essence of the United States' de-risking policy is far beyond the scope of normal competition among nations; it is about maintaining its own monopoly position in technology, dividing the global technological system, and advocating protectionism, which is not consistent with the interests of other countries, especially those countries from the Global South.

Therefore, China needs to deeply identify the different risk perceptions and demands of various countries, especially those within the de-risking circle, adopt targeted response strategies, actively seek targeted cooperation, consolidate the existing cooperation foundation in trade, investment, talent exchange, and infrastructure construction, and expand its circle of friends in a positive way.

Cai Cuihong is a professor at the Center for American Studies at Fudan University. Zhang Ruoyang is a doctoral student at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.