Golden power, the US lesson to manage Chinese technology

Even before a tech alliance between the EU and the US, which risks being extended to too many sectors, there is a need to raise the safety bar with regard to Chinese technology. Europe’s golden power is weak, explains diplomat Kathleen Doherty, but it can learn from the American CFIUS

The expert in politics and economics Kathleen Doherty he has thirty years of diplomatic career as an American felucca behind him. In addition to having worked at the embassies in Moscow, London, Italy and Cyprus, she was director of the European office and advisor to the secretary of the US State Department during the presidency of Barack Obama. Today, having headed the government diplomatic training school in Arlington, he still has one foot in the door of international relations.

In a recent article on Just Security, Doherty lists a number of warnings for Europe regarding the rise of China, especially in the field of technologies. Just a few days ago, a study revealed that the Dragon could overtake the United States in the development of artificial intelligence, a key technology for strategic superiority in a boundless number of sectors, within the next decade.

The basic question is purely geopolitical: technological development does not ignore the values ​​and objectives of those who pursue it. That is to say, Chinese authoritarianism and technology are inseparable, as demonstrated, for example, in the mass surveillance architecture denounced by the international press (especially the BBC) in Xinjiang.

With the election of Donald Trump Washington has started a process of decoupling from China, continued by the administration of Joe Biden, with the dual objective of reducing its dependence on materials and preventing its technologies from being used by Beijing. The point, Doherty argues, is that China still depends on know-how and Western technologies for their own technological development. This makes European countries, much less assertive in containing Chinese ambitions, the weak link in transatlantic relations with the Dragon.

With the exception of Huawei, the Chinese tech giant whose 5G technology has been limited in certain EU countries, Europe shares and trades digital technologies, artificial intelligence, with China. quantum computing, biotechnology and other products with elements of national security, writes Doherty, as well as dual-use products with military applications. “The approach to these issues will be decisive for China’s chances of overcoming American and European high-tech military capabilities […] but while the United States has implemented effective measures, the European ones are lacking ”.

Washington, explains the expert, has at its disposal a commission on foreign investments employed by the Secretary of the Treasury, known by the acronym CFIUS. This has the power to intervene directly on trading with foreign actors, and has been used “vigorously” by Trump, as well as by Obama to block the sale of a semiconductor company to a German company controlled by a parent company Chinese.

Europe also has a similar authority, writes Doherty, but it does not even remotely possess the necessary powers to be effective – especially considering the speed of technological evolution.

There is a similar problem for dual-use technologies, continues the US: too few European countries have a relative export control mechanism, and the authority of the European Commission is not enough. “Both the US and the EU are members of the Wassenaar Agreement, a global multilateral agreement on the control of the export of conventional weapons and sensitive dual-use goods and technologies,” Doherty points out; “But a single country can block any proposal and decisions can take years”.

The EU and the US, writes the expert, should have common, or at least complementary, measures and be able to react promptly. Therefore we need a regular and structural communication hub, where experts can explain (and politicians understand) the problems related to emerging technologies.

The EU proposal to establish a technological alliance, according to Doherty, is misleading, because the forum conceived by Brussels would also deal with matters such as Big Tech taxation, rules and privacy: in this way we risk losing sight of the issue, as well as favoring the Chinese effort to keep transatlantic allies separate.

“The Biden administration will seek the support of the allies in its strategy for China, even for these crucial issues,” concludes Doherty; now we need courage on the European side, even if the investment agreement signed between Beijing and Brussels raises some American eyebrows. But it can’t wait any longer, he writes, because the Chinese threat could be much greater in the future.


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