“The true reason behind the US-China ‘trade’ war has little to do with actual trade … What is really at the basis of the ongoing civilizational conflict between the US and China … are China’s ambitions to be a leader in next-generation technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), which rest on whether or not it can design and manufacture cutting-edge chips, and is why Xi has pledged at least $150 billion to build up the sector”, Zerohedge writes.
Nothing new here: yet behind that ambition, lies another, further ambition and a little mentioned ‘elephant in the room’: that the ‘trade war’ is also the first stage to a new arms race between the US & China – albeit of a different genre of arms race.
This ‘new generation’ arms-race is all about reaching national superiority in technology over the longer-term, via Quantum Computing, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Hypersonic Warplanes, Electronic Vehicles, Robotics, and Cyber-Security.
The blueprint for it, in China, is in the public domain. It is ‘Made in China 2025’ (now downplayed, but far from forgotten). And the Chinese expenditure commitment ($ 150 billion) to take the tech lead – will be met ‘head on’ (as Zerohedge puts it), “by a [counterpart] ‘America First’ strategy: Hence the ‘arms race’ in tech spending … is intimately linked with defence spending. Note: military spending by the US and China is forecast by the IMF to rise substantially in coming decades, but the stunner is: that by 2050, China is set to overtake the US, spending $4tn on its military, while the US is $1 trillion less, or $3tn … This means that sometime around 2038, roughly two decades from now, China will surpass the US in military spending.”
This close intimacy between tech and defence in US future defence thinking is plain: It is all about data, big data and AI: A Defense One article makes this very clear,
“The battle domains of space and cyber are divorced, largely, from the raw physical reality of war. To Hyten [Gen. John E. Hyten, who leads US Air Force Space Command], these two uninhabited spaces mirror one another in another way: They are fields of data and information and that’s what modern war runs on. “What are the missions we do in space today? Provide information; provide pathways for information; in conflict, we deny adversaries access to that information,” he told an audience on Wednesday at the Air Force Association’s annual conference outside Washington, D.C.. The same is true of cyber.
The US wages war with tools that require a lot of information… Inevitably, more adversaries will eventually employ data-connected drones and gunships of their own. The heavy information component of modern-day weapons, particularly that those wielded by air forces, also creates vulnerabilities. Air Force leaders this week discussed how they are looking to reduce the vulnerability for the United States while increasing it for adversaries”.
So, the ‘front line’ to this trade/tech/defence war, effectively pivots about who can design – and manufacture – cutting-edge, semi-conductors (since China already has the lead in Big Data, Quantum computing, and AI). And, in this context, General Hyten’s comment about reducing US vulnerability, whilst increasing it for adversaries takes on major significance: For Washington, the plan is to ramp up export controls (i.e. ban the export) of so-called ‘foundational technologies’ — those that can enable development in a broad range of sectors.
And the equipment for manufacturing chips, or semi-conductors – not surprisingly – is one of the key ‘target areas’ under discussion.
Export controls though, are just one part of this ‘war’ strategy of ‘data denial’ to adversaries. But semi-conductors is one field in which China is indeed vulnerable: since the global semiconductor industry rests on the shoulders of just six equipment companies, of which three are based in the US. Together, these six companies make nearly all of the crucial hardware and software tools needed to manufacture chips. This implies that an American export ban would choke off China’s access to the basic tools needed to manufacture their latest chip designs (though China can retaliate by choking-off the supply of Raw Earth, upon which sophisticated tech, is reliant).
"You cannot build a semiconductor facility without using the big major equipment companies, none of which are Chinese,” said Brett Simpson, the founder of Arete Research, an equity research group. And, as the FT, notes, the real difficulty is not [so much] designing the chips, but in the making of very cutting-edge chips."
So here is the point: the US is attempting to clasp to itself both the ‘pure’ technology-knowledge, plus additionally, the practical tech supply-chain experience and knowhow, in order to repulse China out from the western tech sphere.
At the same time, another strand to the US strategy – as we have witnessed with Huawei, a global leader in 5G infrastructure technology (in which the US is falling behind) – is to scare everyone off incorporating Chinese 5G in to their national infrastructures – through such devices as the arrest of Meng Wanzhou (for breach of US sanctions).
Even before her ‘arrest’, America has been systematically cutting Huawei out of the global 5G rollout, by quoting the magical words: ‘security concerns’ (Just as it is attempting to cut Russia out of weapons sales in the Middle East, on similar, tech-protective, grounds: i.e. that states should not buy Russian air defence, since this would give Russia a ‘window’ into NATO tech capabilities).
And, as General Hyten made clear, this not just about increasing tech and area denial, and promoting vulnerability for adversaries in terms of chips – but the US also plans to extend tech and area info-denial to space, cyber, avionics and military equipment.
It’s another Cold War – but this time it is about technology and ‘data denial’.
Well, China, with its centralized economy, will throw money and brainpower, into creating its own, ‘non-dollar sphere’, supply lines: for semi-conductors; for components – both for civil and military use. It will take time, but the solution will come.
Clearly, one consequence of this new arms race between the US – and China and Russia – is that specialized, and thinly-populated supply lines will have to be disentangled, and made anew, each in its own separate sphere: that is, on one hand, within the NATO-dollar sphere, and on the other, in the non-dollar sphere, led by China and Russia.
And not only will there be this physical supply-line disentanglement and separation, but should the US persist with its Huawei leverage tactic of ‘War on Terror’-style ‘rendition’ of foreign businessmen, or business women, alleged to have breached any US broad spectrum tech sanctions, there will have to be a disentangling of mixed boardrooms to avoid exposing company officials to individual arrest and prosecution. Limitations on company officers’ travel, where their business spans spheres, is already happening (as a result of the attempted rendition of Meng Wahzhou – and in order to avoid being caught up in tit-for-tat, retribution).
The bifurcation of the global economy was already in process. This stemmed firstly from America’s geo-political financial sanctions regime (i.e. Treasury Wars) – and the consequent attempts by targeted states to de-couple from the dollar sphere. The ‘war hawks’ surrounding the President are now inventing a whole new swathe of ‘tech crimes’ for sanctioning – ostensibly to give Trump oven more of his much-desired negotiating ‘leverage’. Clearly the hawks are using the ‘leverage’ pretext, to up-the-ante against China, Russia and its allies – for far wider ambitions than just giving the President more ‘cards in his hand’: Perhaps rather, to re-set the entire power-balance between America versus China and Russia.
The obvious and inevitable consequence has been an accelerating financial separation from the dollar sphere; and the development of a non-dollar architecture. De-dollarisation in a word.
Effectively, the US seems prepared to burn-down its reserve-currency status, to ‘save’ itself – to ‘Make America Rich Again’ (MARA), and to hobble China’s rise. And while burning down dollar-hegemony, the Administration is burning its own ‘global order’ too: attenuating it from the ‘global’ – down to a reduced sphere of US tech and security allies, facing China and the non-West. The domestic consequences for America will be felt in the new (for Americans) frustration of finding it harder to finance itself, in the manner in which it has grown accustomed, over the last 70 years, or so.
Peter Schiff, CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, says that:
“The dollar – [the US] having the reserve currency, [is placing that] status … in jeopardy. And I don’t think the world likes giving America this kind of power that we can impose our own rules and demand that the entire world live by it. So, I think this has a much bigger and broader ramifications other than what’s going on in the stock market today. I think long-term, this is going to undermine the dollar, and its role as a reserve currency. And when that goes, so does the American standard of living: because it’s going to collapse.”
“People think we have the upper hand because we have this huge trade deficit with China. But I think it’s the other way. I think the fact that they supply us with all this merchandise that our economy needs, and the fact that they hold a lot of our bonds [debt], and continue to lend us a lot of money so we can live beyond our means – they’re the ones, I think, that call the tunes, and we have to dance to it.”
This tech and data new Cold War will polarise the global economy into spheres, and already it is polarising it politically, into a new ‘with us, or against us’ American paradigm. Politico notes:
“The Trump administration's global campaign against telecom giant Huawei is pitting Europe against itself – over China. In the midst of a ballooning US-China trade conflict, Washington has spent the past few months pressing its EU allies via its ambassadors to take a stronger stance against Chinese telecom vendors such as Huawei and ZTE.
The American push…is exposing fault-lines between US allies in Europe as well as [between] the so-called "Five Eyes" intelligence community — which have largely followed the US lead — and others that resist the American pressure, by stopping short of calling out Chinese tech.
On the other side there is Germany, which wants proof from the United States that Huawei poses a security risk, as well as France, Portugal and a slew of central and eastern EU nations.
The increasingly divergent attitudes show how Donald Trump is forcing allies to take sides in a global dispute and measure their economic interests — often deeply embedded with the Chinese vendors — against the value of a security alliance with Washington.”
The potential for accelerated de-dollarisation is one aspect, but there is another potential flaw inherent to the wholesale repatriation of supply-lines. US corporate earnings have ballooned over the last two decades. Part of this earnings hike stemmed from ‘easy’ liquidity, and ‘easy’ credit; but a major element owed to cost-cutting – that is to say, off-shoring elements of higher-cost US production (because of wage levels, regulatory costs and employee entitlements) to lower wage, less regulated states. The coming bifurcation of the global economy has therefore, as its inevitable consequence, the repatriation of lower-cost production (in China and elsewhere) to a now higher-cost, and more highly regulated, US and European environment.
Perhaps this is a good thing – but for sure it means costs and prices will rise in the US and America, and it means that corporate business models will be impaired as they de- off-shore. Americans’ standards of living will decline further (as Peter Schiff foretells).
The alienation and disgruntlement of America’s ‘deplorables’ and Europe’s ‘Yellow Vests’ is evidently a profound problem – and one that will not be solved by a new Cold War. The roots to our present discontents lie precisely with the ‘easy’ liquidity, and the ‘easy’ credit paradigm, which centrifuged-out societies into the asset owning 10% and into the non-asset holding 90% of society, and which degraded so the sense of societal well-being and security.
Of course this discontent can really only be resolved by addressing the question of our hyper-financialised economic paradigm – which is not something the élites will, or want, to ‘touch’.