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China technology

China must develop its own technologies in wake of US block

President Xi Jinping has called on top scientists and engineers to turn the country into a world hi-tech leader and, as a result of White House actions, the nation has no other choice

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 3:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 3:02am

President Donald Trump’s unpredictability has made President Xi Jinping look rather prescient.

A day after this newspaper reported a rallying cry from Xi to the nation’s top scientists and engineers to turn China into a world hi-tech leader, the White House gave it immediate context by announcing that Trump would reveal restrictions on investments by Chinese entities to halt the transfer of “industrially significant” technologies, and enhanced export controls on technology aimed at China, by June 30.

The actions, based on recommendations of the Office of the US Trade Representative, are part of an effort to force Beijing to grant American companies easier access to its markets and balance the bilateral trade relationship.

But they are far from being part of a coherent chain of events following on two rounds of high-level negotiations between the two countries aimed at heading off a threatened trade war.

After the latest round, in which Vice-Premier Liu He led a delegation to Washington, a joint statement proclaimed a consensus on measures to reduce the trade imbalance. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration had put on hold its plan for punitive trade tariffs against China while the two parties tried to implement the framework agreement.

Less than two weeks later, we seem in a sense to have come back to square one. All the talk of reducing the massive US trade deficit boils down to one issue – technology. In particular, despite a tentative easing of trade tensions, the White House still seems resolved to block the “Made in China 2025” plan to make the nation a technology-driven industrial power through leadership in aerospace, industrial robots, software and semiconductors, among other things.

Foreign firms may be invited to join ‘Made in China 2025’ scheme, sources say

Xi’s address at the opening of the joint annual conference of the Chinese academies of sciences and engineering therefore addresses the crux of the whole trade deficit issue – China’s uncompromising focus on acquiring core technologies.

He said technological self-reliance was central to China’s world standing and innovation was the way forward to becoming a leading player. “We [should] hold innovative development tightly in our own hands,” he said.

If there is an upside to the roller-coaster ride of Sino-US trade relations, it is that Beijing has never seemed so set on pushing forward with innovative breakthroughs as it has as a result of Trump’s constant reminders that China needs to develop its own core technologies.

Regardless of the trade balance or personal relations between leaders, it is a forlorn hope that the US will share cutting-edge core technology. As Xi made clear to the scientific and engineering elite, the nation has no choice but to do what it takes to develop its own.