Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Worst is yet to come in US tech war against China

  • For Washington, the economic destruction of China and US national security now amount to the same thing

The United States is steadily forming a global chokehold on China from securing the most advanced computer chips. The tech war, which is just starting, is this century’s cold war. But we haven’t seen the worst yet.

It’s what you get when you can’t conduct a hot war without the threat of going nuclear. If China weren’t nuclear-armed, you could be sure Washington would have already threatened to nuke it.

We Chinese have asked for it. In the past decade, we have forgotten the lessons of Sun Tzu and Deng Xiaoping. In a nutshell, you must always hide your war aims, but work stealthily to achieve them. Only reveal them when you are ready to deliver the fatal blow.

What did we do? The opposite! We announced to the world we would achieve technological and economic supremacy, and even committed to some specific dates. It’s less important whether those dates were realistic than that they were publicised at all.

Sure enough, that spooked the Americans, for whom global supremacy is a God-given right. In the first decade of the new century, the Chinese were happy to let the Americans pursue a fruitless and highly destructive war on radical Islam. But then we painted a target on ourselves.

If China can’t get American tech, asking US allies may help weather storm

The semiconductor crackdown will soon be followed by new sanctions targeting China’s biotechnology and artificial intelligence. Alan Estevez, who is in charge of industry and security policies at the US Department of Commerce, has said as much.

“That is not … about the economic destruction of China,” Estevez said. “This is about national security.”

That’s just different word choices; they amount to the same thing.

If it could, the US would be more than happy to do a Cuba on China, with a multi-decade blockade to send it back to the technological stone age.

But China is too big for that. So the US has to be more strategic. That involves dragging allies and others into this hi-tech blockage, which could backfire on the US. But for now, there are at least three imponderables.

How fast and whether China can master the tech denied it? How willing and committed are US allies and their private sectors in Europe and Asia to do it at considerable costs to themselves? What will be the collateral damage to the world economy?

Until we have some answers to those questions, we won’t know the winner and loser of this new cold war.