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China’s new Long Technology March is gathering pace

Donald Trump is not only America’s first digital president, but he’s a founding father of the new Digital Age. The changes he’s made to the digital future are massive.

China’s new Long Technology March is gathering pace
Garry white employee

by
Garry White

in Features

09.10.2020

Donald Trump will not be remembered as a founder of this new epoch because he transformed US political communication through his use of Twitter. His campaign’s successful use of Facebook algorithms and Big Data analysis to target his messaging to the voters most likely to be influenced are also not that important in his technological legacy.

The former reality TV star will be remembered as a founding father of the Digital Age because his actions over the last four years have changed not only the way the world will develop new inventions – but have shaped how new breakthroughs and technological leaps will be shared with humanity. He has created a new rivalry with China that is likely to turbo-charge innovation in areas such as semiconductors, accelerating the rate of progress. His actions may even lead to a new digital iron curtain dividing East and West as, bit by bit, the internet fractures into a Splinternet divided on ideological grounds.

The digital foundations that the 45th president laid over the last four years will change the future infrastructure of the world significantly – and influence the policy direction of many presidents to come. He has elevated technological innovation to the forefront of geopolitics – and, this week, China grudgingly accepted his place in history.

The new Long March

Donald Trump’s policies have created a war for technological supremacy that will rage for many years to come – probably decades. China has now accepted the battle will be lengthy and hard-fought – with the potential to create serious difficulties for its own people. This week it confirmed that the quest for technological supremacy was, more specifically, China’s new Long March.

The Long March is a major event in Chinese history, central to the rise of the Chinese Communist Party. In October 1934, embattled Chinese Communist fighters smashed through Nationalist lines and began a 6,000-mile trek that led to the emergence of Mao Zedong as the undisputed party leader and his eventual victory in the country’s civil war.  

There were many deaths as the Red army marched across 18 mountain ranges and 24 rivers – to reach the province of Shaanxi. It is a tale of heroism, adversary and sacrifice. The phrase “new Long March” to describe Mr Trump’s technology war is not careless or hyperbolic. It’s a message to the Chinese people that there may be hardship and suffering ahead, but the prize at the end of the long trek will be worth the sacrifices made on the way. It’s an attempt to stir a nationalistic sense of pride which Beijing can harness to take on Silicon Valley.

Chinese President Xi Jinping first used the phrase “new Long March” in May last year, but it was made in general, unspecific terms. However, this week it was explicitly stated that the new Long March referred to by President Xi is a battle for technological supremacy between ideological rivals – and that the main front line will be the semiconductor industry.

The editorial argued that US dominance of the global chip industry supply chain was a "fundamental threat" to China. “It now appears that China will need to control all research and production chains of the semiconductor industry, and rid itself of being dependent on the US,” the Global Times said.

China’s ire

The two main outlets that Beijing uses to commutate its views to the West – in plain English – are the People’s Daily, which provides a relatively restrained view, and the Global Times, which is a tabloid with a more pugnacious and direct way of communicating. Its editorials are used to provoke foreign adversaries when anger in Beijing is rising and to deliver messages that are not politically expedient for officials to openly say. Its editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, regularly takes to Twitter to reinforce the Communist Party line or express its outrage.

The editorial followed a controlled leak by the US government on Saturday of a letter sent to US technology executives. It informed them they now must now obtain a license to supply any products at all to leading Chinese chip company Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC). 

After its successful targeting of Huawei, which has led to many western governments vowing not to use the Chinese networking group’s products in 5G communications systems, SMIC is the next target on the China hawks’ hitlist. “From Huawei to SMIC, the Chinese people should see for themselves that we are facing a protracted battle against high-tech suppression being led by the US,” the editorial said. “This is almost the key process for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

China has told its people that the technology war currently centred around Huawei and now SMIC is going to expand and create difficulties for a long time to come – and its people must unite and make sacrifices for China itself. “In order for China to win US' respect to rules in dealing with the China-US relations, we must become global leader in important areas and form cross-constraints with the US. Market leverage alone (such as not buying American agricultural products,) are far from enough,” the Global Times said.

Whatever your views on Donald Trump the man – or some of his more controversial policies – his actions on technology, one of the most important tenets of his presidency, have significantly altered the direction of the digital future. His influence on the technology that will drive the economy of tomorrow is likely to be so significant that history is unlikely to forget.  

A version of this article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

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