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Revisiting China-US cooperation in today’s digital society

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From medicine to energy, technology, and education, today there is a strong cooperation framework between China and Pakistan. The region as a whole has benefited from what Harvard Business Review calls China’s “new innovation advantage”, with China now home to many of the fastest start-ups to reach a $1 billion valuation globally. This is particularly evident in the field of technology.
More recently, however, there have been confrontations between the US government and China as they both find their footing in a new digital society. The US has taken increasingly confrontational steps against trade with China and Chinese entities. Technology companies have been particularly hard hit, accused of being fronts for Chinese government spying and data pilferage.
This position is reinforced in the recently-backed Strategic Competition Act of 2021, in which US policymakers now label China a strategic competitor. Global observes have noted that the Act-reviewed just this spring-does little to lay out a trajectory in which the US can constructively negotiate with China and seek mediation.
The Digital Pakistan project and many subsequent initiatives are seeking to bolster the IT industry by building a truly connected, multilateral digital ecosystem. Global standardizations now allow organizations in Pakistan to make their own informed choices on what is good for them. Unfounded claims about cybersecurity erode the collective trust in a more connective and prosperous future.
Moreover, Pakistan’s post-COVID economic recovery hinges on access to digital services, as has been evident in the last few months. Narrowing the coverage gap in Pakistan and supporting new infrastructure to support AI, robotics, and other forms of automation add resilience to the national economy. Deeper US sanctions against Chinese tech firms could hinder recovery by denying organizations the technology they require to fast-track their revival. China and Chinese companies are currently significant partners to Pakistan with major organizations depending on their expertise for mission-critical operations.
Although politics and commerce are inherently intertwined, companies like Huawei have found themselves as the primary target of increasingly aggressive anti-China trade actions. The company’s technology, particularly 5G, has been banned from the US Huawei’s ability to access certain American technologies including Google for smartphones and tablets.
This ban is described by many industry analysts as an application of geopolitics, not science and fact. Former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo even said on Fox News that regions like Europe need to get Huawei “out of their system” as part of ensuring “that the next century remains a Western one”.
Confrontational trade policies like the Strategic Competition Act of 2021 may do little, in the end, to curtail China’s innovation rise. One example can be seen in the semiconductor domain. China is quickly developing alternatives to US chipset technology following recent trade bans. In the case of Huawei, as another example, the U.S. ban did not stop it from focusing on development. In 2020 alone, it increased its investment in R&D to US$21.8 billion and diversified into new business lines such as electric cars, proving its business flexibility and self-sufficiency.
The current danger is that a China-US tech fissure could pressure countries like Pakistan to choose sides, leading to an East-West digital divide at a time when national competitiveness is ultimately anchored in open, fact-based cooperation.