Great Tech Wall stands at the center of the US-China Cold War

The digital battle lines have been drawn as Washington and Beijing lock horns in a technological arms race

It is a virtual monument to authoritarianism. 

China’s Great Firewall is notorious for stifling online debate and freedom of expression at home. A virtual gagging order by the ruling Communist Party to silence the “masses,” as well as shutting out foreign competition.

Now, the Great Tech Wall is being erected by Washington to stop Beijing’s illegal harvesting of private data, cyber spying and technology theft.

Already the digital battle lines have been drawn amid an atmosphere of New Cold War realpolitik.

“President Donald Trump has finally assembled a comprehensive strategy for technological competition with China,” Adam Segal, the director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank, said.

“That policy rests on restricting the flow of technology to China, restructuring global supply chains, and investing in emerging technologies at home. Even a new US administration is unlikely to stray from these fundamentals,” Segal wrote in a commentary on the Foreign Affairs website.

Tech confrontation

So far, the high-profile tech confrontation between the United States and China has involved:

  • Cracking down on Chinese 5G giants Huawei and ZTE along with a host of digital surveillance firms;
  • Blocking TikTok, a short video app loved by teens, from operating in the US because of data concerns unless its parent company ByteDance relinquishes control;
  • Insisting on data-security protocols involving Tencent, one of the big beasts of Chinese tech, and its US gaming partners;

But these are just issues in a broader and more complex standoff between the world’s two largest economies.

“Trump has set the course for US technological competition with China. If there is a change in administration, the changes in the policy are likely to be a matter of fine-tuning,” Segal, of the Council on Foreign Relations, said.

The move also comes amid deteriorating diplomatic and trade relations between Washington and Beijing.

Military might

Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced plans to upgrade the US Pacific fleet to challenge China’s growing military might in the South and East China Seas.

High-tech unmanned and autonomous ships, submarines, and aircraft are part of the package of a review known as Fast Forward.

The decision is seen as a way to combat Indo-Pacific flashpoints and stop China’s policy to turn democratic Taiwan into a battleground of political wills.

Read: Pentagon creates China waves by beefing up US Pacific Fleet

One of the world’s leading manufacturers of high-end semiconductors, the island has become a major piece in the US jigsaw puzzle when it comes to containing China’s technological ambitions.

“Until recent years, China had always remained a low-tech ground power, and did not have a realistic option even for conquering nearby Taiwan, a polity with less than 2% the population of mainland China,” Michael O’Hanlon, the director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, said in a commentary on the Washington-based think tank earlier this month.

But as he later pointed out, all that has changed. Even the Great Firewall does not suppress that fact.