Wary of China, US and EU forge alliance on technology

With Beijing on the rise as a tech superpower, Brussels and Washington want to close ranks. But divisions loom over the new "Trade and Technology Council" alliance — and previous efforts have a mixed track record.
With Beijing on the rise as a tech superpower, Brussels and Washington want to join forces — but divisions remain. (DW graphic)
With Beijing on the rise as a tech superpower, Brussels and Washington want to join forces — but divisions remain. (DW graphic)
Published on Sep 29, 2021 01:04 PM IST
Copy Link
ByDeutsche Welle

The chip crisis turned dire when the coronavirus hit. As demand for electronics was skyrocketing in the spring of 2020, manufacturers warned they were running short of semiconductors — key components needed to make devices from smartphones to cars.

They had good reasons: In the following months, the shortage forced factories to shut down assembly lines. Tech companies postponed product launches. Computers were delivered months too late.

Worried about the fallout, politicians from Washington DC to Berlin called up chip-manufacturing countries and asked them to help prioritize orders from their countries.

But there was only so much they could do: The chips, which are made by just a handful of firms, are notoriously hard to produce. And there just were not enough for everyone.

'A US-EU partnership'

A year and a half later, the shortage persists — curtailing, for example, the production of new cars.

That is why manufacturing more chips in Europe and the US will be high up on the agenda when top US and EU officials gather on Wednesday in Pittsburgh for the first meeting of the "EU-US Trade and Technology Council" (TTC).

"We commit to building a US-EU partnership ... to design and produce the most powerful and resource-efficient semiconductors," the White House said in a statement.

Other discussions at the TTC will be about coming up with principles for artificial intelligence technology; how to boost cybersecurity in an increasingly unstable digital world; and how to push joint technology standards on the international stage.

The meeting will be co-chaired by the EU's digital chief Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

Far from seeing eye to eye

The chip crisis was an eye-opening moment for policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic, illustrating how important access to technology has become for maintaining geopolitical dominance, according to conversations with US and EU officials involved in preparing the TTC meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential.

But finding common ground during the two-day meeting will not be easy.

Not only was the event overshadowed by news that the US had quietly negotiated a security agreement with Australia and the UK, wrecking a multi-billion-euro French submarine deal.

The US and the EU have been at loggerheads over how to regulate new technology for years.

While Brussels is pushing for tough rules, arguing they are needed to protect the fundamental rights of Europeans, Washington has mostly advocated a market-driven, hands-off approach, warning that too many rules could hamper innovation.

Finding a middle ground would help both sides, said Marietje Schaake, the policy director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center.

"If the US and the EU worked together better, that would actually be a pretty strong combination — it would bring the geopolitical strength from the US to the EU, and it would bring the rights-and-freedoms strength from the EU to the US," said Schaake, who served as a member of the European Parliament between 2009 and 2019.

"But it does require political agreement — and so far, there has not been a great meeting of the minds."

A 'New Cold War'?

The elephant in the negotiation room is how to deal with China.

In recent years, China's tech companies have grown into some of the biggest in the world. This has raised concerns in the US that Beijing could soon dominate certain sensitive technologies and use that as a strategic advantage — and it has prompted some observers to speak of a "New Cold War."

The Biden administration, encouraged by widespread support for a tough stance on Beijing back home, has painted the new TTC as a platform where the US and the EU can combine their economic and political might to counter China's ambitions.

EU officials, meanwhile, have been eager to stress that the new alliance should primarily be about working together, rather than targeting one particular country. The bloc has so far taken a less confrontational course on Beijing, not least because some of its 27 member countries have close economic ties with China and remain divided over how to deal with the country.

But Beijing's increasingly authoritarian leadership style has officials in Washington and Brussels alarmed, said Stormy-Annika Mildner, the executive director of think tank Aspen Institute Germany.

"Both sides feel a greater threat from China, and a greater need to work together," Mildner said, adding that this could set the TTC apart from previous trans-Atlantic efforts kicked off under George W. Bush or Barack Obama, which all started with similarly grand ambitions for trans-Atlantic cooperation — but eventually led nowhere.

"The world around us is just completely different from back then," Mildner said, "And China is one key reason for that."

How much can governments really do?

One of the areas where both sides hope to close ranks is that of producing semiconductors. Manufacturing the tiny chips is extremely complicated. It includes hundreds of steps, takes months to complete, and requires factories worth billions.

China has declared it a top national priority to soon run that entire production process on its own territory — something no country can currently do.

That is one of the reasons why US and European officials have been watching warily that Chinese-owned firms have been buying chip companies around the world.

At the TTC, officials will speak about how to deal with foreign investment in the semiconductors industry. They will also discuss how to coordinate their own plans for how the EU and the US can become less dependent on global supply chains.

And the US and EU should think about how to better collaborate in the research and development of new technology, said Jan-Peter Kleinhans, a semiconductor expert at think tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung.

Kleinhans cautioned that when it comes to tackling the global chip crisis, there is only so much governments can do.

"Yes, public money, if spent properly, can help with building new production capacities," he said.

But Kleinhans added that more is needed to tackle the current shortage — such as making global supply chains more transparent or giving a halt to rising raw material prices that have exacerbated the crisis.

"That's something only companies can do," he said. "And that's why no one truly knows when we'll be out of this crisis."

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • US President Joe Biden (right) speaks with South Korean President Yoon Suk-youl next to him during a press conference after a visit to the Samsung Electronic Pyeongtaek Campus, in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on Friday, the first day of his trip to Asia. (AP)

    IPEF a significant milestone in Washington’s Indo-Pacific engagement: NSA

    Ahead of President Joe Biden's official launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in Tokyo next week, the United States on Friday said that a “wide-ranging and comprehensive” set of countries are set to join the initiative and it will represent a significant milestone in US engagement in the region. India has not made an official decision on joining the pact, but New Delhi is examining the framework “positively”.

  • A smartphone with the Huawei and 5G network logo is seen on a PC motherboard in this illustration picture. (REUTERS/ FILE)

    China says Canada’s Huawei, ZTE 5G ban ‘groundless’

    China on Friday hit out at Canada for banning Chinese telecoms giants Huawei and ZTE from Canadian 5G networks, warning of retribution and signalling a fresh bout of diplomatic tension between Beijing and Ottawa. Citing national security issues, Canada on Thursday said it plans to ban the use of China's Huawei Technologies' and ZTE Corp' 5G gear, joining the rest of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network comprising the US, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

  • Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (R) poses with his wife Akshata Murty.

    British finance minister Rishi Sunak, wife Akshata Murthy in UK's Rich List

    British finance minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy have been included in the 'Rich List' of the 250 wealthiest British residents, Reuters reported. The couple's reported wealth is of 730 million pounds ($911.19 million). Sunak's inclusion in the The Sunday Times UK Rich List at the 222nd slot is a result of his wife Akshata Murthy, the daughter of Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy and philanthropist mother Sudha Murthy.

  • UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi

    Ukraine: UNHCR urges nations to not ignore other crises as war rages on

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees chief Filippo Grandi on Friday warned countries focussing on helping Ukraine to “not ignore the crises elsewhere”. The UNHCR said the global displacement crisis is also likely to worsen due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. The Group of Seven (G&) countries are providing $19.8 billion in aid to bolster Ukraine's public finances. Several other countries, including Japan and Germany, are providing help to Ukraine.

  • FILE PHOTO: Police and security members in protective suits stand outside cordoned off food stores following the COVID-19 outbreak in Shanghai, China.

    Shanghai breaks 'zero COVID' streak, finds fresh cases outside quarantined areas

    Shanghai announced its first new COVID-19 cases outside quarantined areas in five days on Friday and imposed stricter curbs in two districts, but did not signal any change to the planned end of a prolonged city-wide lockdown on June 1. Another district, Hongkou, on Friday afternoon ordered all shops to shut and residents to stay home until at least Sunday as it plans to carry out mass testing.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, May 20, 2022