If history is a mirror to the future, the similarities between the spiralling technology stand-off between China and the US and the economic wars waged by the US with Japan – which peaked in the 1980s and 1990s – may be instructive. But there are differences between the two which may predict a different outcome.
The US-Japan economic tensions started in the 1950s over textiles, extended to synthetic fibres and steel in the 1960s, and escalated – from the 1970s to 1990s – to colour televisions, cars and semiconductors, as Japan’s adjusted industrial policy and technology development moved it up the industrial chain.
Boosted by government support, Japan’s semiconductor industry surpassed the US as the world’s largest chip supplier in the early 1980s, causing wariness and discontent in the US over national security risks and its loss of competitiveness in core technologies.
The Reagan administration regarded Japan as the biggest economic threat to the US. Washington accused Tokyo of state-sponsored industrial policies, intellectual property theft from US companies, and of dumping products on the American market.
The US punished Japanese companies for allegedly stealing US technology and illegally selling military sensitive products to the Soviet Union. It also forced Japan to sign deals to share its semiconductor technologies and increase its purchases of US semiconductor products.
“The Trump administration is using similar tactics against China that were used against Japan in the 1980s and 1990s,” said an adviser to the Chinese government, on condition of anonymity, adding that the US was continuing its hegemony to curtail China’s tech development and was trying to mobilise its allies to follow suit.
After talks to end the US-China trade faltered last month, Huawei – a global leader in the 5G market – is now standing at centre stage of a protracted technology stand-off between Beijing and Washington, which has grown increasingly wary of the rising competitiveness of Chinese tech companies.
Zhang Monan, a researcher with the Beijing-based China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, does not foresee an easing of the rivalry between the US and China.
“The current US-China conflicts are more complicated than those between the US and Japan,” she said.
“The US will only get more intense in its containment of China and the tech rivalry won’t ease, even if China and the US could reach a deal to de-escalate the trade tensions.”
[To read original article, click here]