The wildly popular social-media platform TikTok is the latest Chinese-owned technology company to be targeted by US President Donald Trump over national-security and privacy concerns. Whether founded or not, the technological basis of geopolitical competition means that such fears extend well beyond the Trump administration.
In this Big Picture, former Google and Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Graham Allison of Harvard University say that even if artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies imply a zero-sum competition between the United States and China, coexistence is still possible. But Columbia University’s Shang Jin-Wei points out that coexistence requires that both sides adhere to agreed rules, a requirement that Trump has flouted by forcing TikTok’s parent company to sell the app to a US firm.
Columbia’s Jeffrey D. Sachs suggests that such contempt for temporal rules is not surprising, singling out US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as one of many in the Trump administration and the Republican Party who view American supremacy over China as a matter of “Manifest Destiny.” In any case, argues the University of Oxford’s Ngaire Woods, for ordinary mortals, the concerns that US and other Western leaders have raised about Chinese technology companies are equally applicable to US firms.
Finally, Harvard’s Joseph Nye implies that, from a geopolitical perspective, a Sino-American cold war may not be the main story, because technological innovation is empowering a broad range of transnational actors and global forces.