It is becoming clear that the ongoing “tech war” between the United States and China is taking place along five fronts: semiconductors, network infrastructure, operating systems, platforms and content. While it was Beijing that first erected a defensive Great Firewall around its internet users over 25 years ago to censor content, it is now Washington that is on the offensive on all fronts. The ostensible reason for this, as cited by officials of the Donald Trump administration, is national security—to prevent espionage, surveillance and influence operations by the Chinese government, as also its corporate proxies and agents.
The deeper and less-articulated reason is strategic: the US wants to increase its relative technological advantage over China. It is doing this by containing China’s progress and by rejuvenating its own high-technology industrial base. Both sides of the partisan divide in Washington have recognized that three decades of globalization resulted in the relocation of high-tech industrial capacity away from its soil, and that even if American firms and investors reaped the benefits of free trade, the strategic consequence has been the empowerment of an economic competitor and political adversary in the form of China. Nation-states are sensitive to changes in relative power, and the US has decided that China is too close for comfort.