How Biden will approach the U.S. battle with China over technology

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Electoral college certification at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware on December 14, 2020.

Roberto Schmidt | AFP | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to reverse President Donald Trump’s challenge to China’s technology industry and companies — but Biden will likely be more targeted in his approach and collaborate with allies, experts told CNBC.

During his presidency, Trump has looked to challenge China’s technology industry through sanctions, executive orders and other actions. Biden will likely continue such a policy.

“The bullet has left the chamber. Trump has completely disrupted the status quo that existed between the U.S. and China for decades,” Abishur Prakash, a geopolitical specialist at the Center for Innovating the Future (CIF), a Toronto-based consulting firm, told CNBC by email.

Collaboration with allies

The approach of cutting off China’s technology companies could continue under a Biden presidency.

“I think the admin will still see tech as a major source of competition and continue some of the Trump approaches to cutting off flow of critical tech to China,” said Adam Segal, director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

“The difference is process will be more collaborative, with both private sector and allies, and more focused on a narrower set of technologies,” he told CNBC in an email.

The preference of a Biden team will likely be to control less technologies, but set high walls around those that are deemed necessary to protect for national security reasons.

Paul Triolo, head of the geo-technology practice at risk consultancy Eurasia Group, agreed that the Biden administration will work with allies on its strategy regarding Chinese technology.

Triolo told CNBC Biden’s team will “clarify what should be controlled within the areas of emerging and foundational technologies.” Some of these areas will include artificial intelligence and so-called quantum computing, the next-generation of computing which uses quantum physics to solve problems that take existing computers years to solve.

“Here the preference of a Biden team will likely be to control less technologies, but set high walls around those that are deemed necessary to protect for national security reasons,” Triolo said in an email. “Also, I would expect the definition of what technologies are critical to control for national security reasons to be much clearer under a Biden administration than during the Trump years.”

Prakash says Biden will likely continue Trump’s push to have Chinese vendors excluded from next-generation 5G mobile networks around the world. The Trump administration has been pushing allies to cut Huawei from its networks. Australia, Japan and the U.K. have effectively done that.

The geopolitical specialist said Biden may also “recalibrate” in areas such as the blacklisting of Chinese companies or certain export controls, while also looking to innovate in terms of his approach to other areas like data rules of mergers and acquisitions.

One thing is for certain — the tech battle between the U.S. and China will continue under a Biden presidency.

“The U.S. does not have too many options. Either it allows China to dominate the world through tech or challenges it,” Prakash said.

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