By GP Acharya (KATHMANDU, 25 December 2021) – The world witnessed bi-polar politics between the US and Soviet Union after WW-II and during Cold War. Then the US emerged as a sole superpower after Cold War by adopting globalization, open world economy, soft power and technology as the driving forces of economy. Following the US, China is emerging as a dynamic country with extra-ordinary economic rise and technological innovations by incorporating the similar driving forces.
The concept and being of bipolarity, however, has been changed along with the passage of time, geo-political advancement, and calibre of digital revolution. The complexity of geo-politics and technological warfare is getting more intricate with the advancement of technology, while the geo-political and geo-strategic interest of powerful countries are not limited to economy and borders; but protracted to multiple affairs such as maritime, planetary, trade and tech affairs. Since technology has been a central component of the strategic competition between the powerful countries, the core focus of the mighty states have been geo-tech interest including ‘tech influence’, ‘tech intrigue’ and ‘tech supremacy’.
The Geo-Tech Interest
Technology has massively contributed to the wellbeing of global economy since the beginning of technological revolution. Technology has equally added greater threat to nation’s security and sovereignty- both physical and digital. Meanwhile the diplomatic notion of ‘collaboration’ and ‘cooperation’ between the resourceful countries have been altered to the astute idea of ‘containment’ and ‘confrontation’. The powerful countries have shifted their interest from ‘geo-economic integration’ to ‘geo-strategic sprint’, which is subsequently leading to ‘geo-tech intrigue’. The ‘technological innovation’ and ‘digital revolution’ have been advancing towards ‘modern day bipolarity’- the tech bipolarity- between the US and China.
Now, the major concern is- Can these tech powers respect other countries’ digital sovereignty, and shape the global technological future? This article will assess the prospects of China and the US in various domains- technology, macroeconomics, defense structure and spending, and soft potentials.
China, politically a Marxist country, have been greatly benefiting from economic liberalism and marching ahead to attain the goal of ‘Algorithmic Governance’ and ‘Tech Supremacy’, and ‘Global Leadership’ by 2025 and 2030 respectively. To achieve this goal, China has massively invested on Artificial Intelligence (AI), information and data security, producing engineers and AI experts; and has been engaged in soft power diplomacy, international cooperation, economic integration, development, economy and innovative technology under various initiatives including the BRI (Belt and Road initiatives). China produces more than 600,000 engineers annually, which is 70 percent more than India; while China has four times more AI experts and engineers than the US (RAND). Tech sector in China, reportedly, is contributing to nearly 39 percent of GDP, while 80 percent of its GDP growth is determined by the application of technology. Chinese GDP is approximately $14 trillion, which is nearly 15 percent of the Global GDP (SIPRI Fact Sheet- 2020). China, the second largest economy in the world, has larger GDP than that of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth largest economy combined together. China has been great power for about 60 years. It has nearly 2.5 million soldiers, which is the strongest military force in the world (Military Direct). China has military expenditures around $261 billion, which is 14 percent of the world’s total military spending (as of 2019) per year. Chinese defense budget, which is second in the world after the US, is again larger than that of third, fourth, fifth and sixth largest economy combined together.
The US, a long time realist country, has been great power for more than 100 years and superpower for about 75 years. It has nearly 2 million soldiers; around $732 billion military expenditure in a year, which is nearly 17 times as much on foreign affairs (the US defense budget, which is 38 percent of the word’s total military spending, is larger than that of the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh largest economy combined together); about $45 billion budget of its intelligence agencies; and GDP more than $21 trillion, which is nearly 21 percent of the Global GDP (IDDS- Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies; World Arms Database; SIPRI Fact Sheet- 2020). The American military is the second strongest in the world (Military Direct) and possess world’s most advanced technology where its satellites used in military surveillance and mapping, and communications are high enough to trace out even the tiny objects on the road, sea, or space. The tech sector in the US is contributing to nearly 12 percent of its GDP. The US, a tech superpower, has most influencing tech and e-commerce giants including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon, of which combined global users account more than the world’s total population; while Facebook, a ‘tech propaganda machine’, is tailing and controlling every global information.
Despondently, the US, under the political cover of liberal idealism, is struggling to garner alliance support to counter China that is largely grounded on its long standing realist beliefs of power balance and dominance. The AUKUS and QUAD alliance, both of which lack geo-economic strategies, are the Geo-strategic and Military Tools that are centered on marshalling the power of AI and Military Technology Firepower; while the UK and the US, under AUKUS deal, are likely to share intelligence and secret technology to Australia on developing nuclear-powered submarines and other counter defense technologies such as AI, Quantum Computing, Cyber Warfare, and Under Water Technology. Yet, the concern is- where are the powerful countries on their adherence to the NPT? The US is also a proponent of IPS and B3W which are based on Geo-Strategic Influence and Geo-Economic Strategy respectively, both of which again are initiated to counter China and its global geo-economic initiative on BRI. Similarly, the European Commission, an executive branch of EU, announced a plan to initiate ‘Global Gateway’ to counter China’s BRI by investing about $340 billion in infrastructure development including ‘green and digital transition’, ‘transport links’ and ‘under water data cable connection to continents’ around the world. While the BRI, a Geo-economic strategy, intends to reshape ‘soft infrastructure’ that is likely to cover digital infrastructures, soft power and infrastructural development, which is a rising clout for ‘soft balance’, claims China. Recently, the US and Australia announced to boycott (diplomatically) Beijing Winter Olympics. Meanwhile China was not invited on the US hosted ‘Summit for Democracy’, while Taiwan, which is not a member country of the UN, was invited. This certainly adds fuel in burning the issues of Taiwan, Hong Kong and South-China Sea, which subsequently escalate the diplomatic gap between the US and China.
India, on the other hand, has significantly progressed on innovations, technology and intelligence mechanisms in the recent years, and is more likely be one of the key tech powers. India produces more than 350,000 engineers annually, of which employability is 40 percent more than that from China (RAND), while tech sector in India is contributing to 8 percent of Indian GDP (As of 2020) (IBEF). Amid the recent appointment of Twitter CEO from Indian origin, the Silicon Valley is under Indian dominance now as the tech giants Alphabet Inc. (the parent company of Google) and Microsoft already have their CEOs from Indian origin. Some other renowned multibillion companies such as Adobe Systems, IBM, Micron Technology among others are also under the command of Indian descent CEOs. The First Deputy Managing Director of IMF is going to be from Indian origin, next. Every Indian-origin tech and financial doyens most likely promote Indian national tech and financial interest in each of the companies abroad despite of their professional association. They are expected to influence tech and financial policies cum strategies including coding and algorithmic sways, and economic challenges, which will have Indian predominance no matter whatever be the degree of contours, which ultimately result a huge ‘Soft Power’ for India. India is equally leveraging from distinct multilateral institutions and military alliances including SCO, BRICS, QUAD and IPS. Since India is maintaining parallel strategic partnerships with the long time Cold War foes- the US and Russia, India’s every role including geo-strategic and geo-tech influence significantly matters in escalating or de-escalating the impetus of the rising tech bipolarity.
Leveraging from Tech Potency
From the above assessment, it can be estimated that the reciprocal growth competition between the US and China in all domains- economic, defense, technology and soft potentials- may have similar pattern for the years to come that would help emerge them as bipolar force of Global politics, economy and technology. Yet, the concern is- who will win the battle, if they vow to counter or contain one another? Certainly, human intelligence will lose, and insanity wins if they do not use their sense of intelligence while marshalling the power of AI and tech supremacy. Instead of intensifying the prospects of confrontation, containment, and tech polarization, they are expected to take initiatives to formulate multilateral tech strategies through diplomatic channel that could address the global policy on AI ethics, tech security and public diplomacy. Essentially, the powerful countries like the US and China should explore their greater spirit and bigger generosity for the greater goodness of people, society, human kind, and the tech and cyber world, which would ultimately help preserve the legacy of their respective institutions and make themselves great and responsible global power.
Nonetheless, the prospective tech bipolarity may induce crucial threat as well as open greater opportunity to Nepal. Nepal, however, can leverage from the cloud of this geo-tech environment and respective tech potency. Yet, Nepal has to be pragmatic enough in getting better intelligence and stronger tech security apparatuses in advance. For this, Nepal should invest rationally on digital literacy, data and information security; emphasize ‘Knowledge Economy’- knowledge-based economy, digital economy, tech economy, and information economy; establish a resilient cyber space for everyday life, economic vitality and national security; and set up an advanced intelligence unit to acquire time sensitive data on Real-Time basis. Essentially, the prominence of data and technological sovereignty can result enormous power capability and affluence for Nepal.
(This article first appeared in Republica)