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The Evolving US-China Strategic Competition in Technology
23 Oct 2020
Quah Say Jye*

Pertinent issues concerning the evolving US-China competition in technology were discussed at a RSIS webinar on 23 October 2020. Sharing his insights was Dr Adam Garfinkle, founding editor of The American Interest and RSIS Distinguished Visiting Fellow. He noted that technological competition is capacious and filled with technical questions, while cutting across multiple disciplines.

Dr Garfinkle stressed that technological innovation is not about having the right machinery, or large numbers of intelligent people within a society. These conditions do not guarantee the full benefits of technology. What mattered more was a combination of three factors — human capital; social trust or social capital; and institutional cohesion and coordination. A focus on these factors as the products of a society’s culture could suggest why, for example, scientific revolution had originated in the West and not in China, despite considerable sources of wealth and intelligence in the latter. On the contemporary front, while the United States has been in institutional disarray for decades, it did not have the same problems as the Chinese in terms of costs relating to efforts to maintain a unitary state.

Dr Garfinkle pointed out that questions about the links between technology, economic growth, and military prowess were not new. He noted how technological competition was a major part of the Cold War, as technology served to promote the ideologies of the respective superpowers. The applied use of technology and science could create vibrant economic growth, and therefore showcase the credibility of these systems. This is evidenced in the recent rise of dual-use technologies for both military and non-military applications.

During the question and answer session, Dr Garfinkle highlighted a common theme: that things are not as binary as they seem. It is not simply the case that the Obama administration underestimated Chinese aggression and that Trump was being belligerent; or that the United States had to choose between engaging with or decoupling from China. Neither is it a simple bifurcated choice for the United States between focusing on the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific. He concluded that nuanced and careful analysis would be required to explain the grey areas.

*Quah Say Jye is currently a research assistant under Dr Hoo Tiang Boon.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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