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The battle for technological dominance between China and the U.S. rages on


The fate of TikTok here in the U.S. is now uncertain after the House last week passed a bill to ban the hugely popular app. Lawmakers want to divest it from its parent company, which they say has links to China's ruling Communist Party. Beijing accuses U.S. legislators of acting like bandits. This is all just the latest in a long race between the two countries for technological dominance. NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam has more.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The battle for tech supremacy between the world's two largest economies is years in the making. But recent geopolitical tensions are inflaming that rivalry, says Scott Kennedy, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says China is increasingly relying on its own technology to win the race.

SCOTT KENNEDY: I think following the trade war with Trump and the pandemic and the Biden administration's continued efforts to de-risk, China has responded not by sanctions and penalizing the West, but by doubling down on its efforts to become less dependent on the West technologically.

NORTHAM: China needed the U.S. and other Western nations to help it become the economic powerhouse it is today, creating partnerships with firms such as Microsoft and Cisco Systems. That changed once China started to develop its own domestic capabilities, says Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade representative and now vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute.

WENDY CUTLER: We have seen that in a number of high technology sectors. Now we're seeing it in the medical device sector, which used to be an industry where U.S. companies were enjoying significant access to the Chinese market, but now are increasingly being crowded out by competitors.

NORTHAM: The push to self-sufficiency is being driven hard by President Xi Jinping, says Zoe Liu, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

ZOE LIU: The government has strongly encouraged Chinese consumers to buy China - buy Chinese brand. And you see this not just in TV commercials, but also in Chinese television. It's a whole of society mobilization building up this buy Chinese domestic brand.

NORTHAM: This economic nationalism, analysts say, was accelerated by policies such as Made in China 2025, which is a blueprint for making the country dominant across strategic sectors. Kennedy says a decade on, China has excelled in several areas, especially electric vehicles.

KENNEDY: The Chinese have, over the last decade, really moved mountains to develop every element of this industry, from the batteries, the design of the cars and recycling.

NORTHAM: At the other end of the scale are semiconductors. China's government has injected hundreds of billions of dollars into the industry, but the U.S. and its allies are still dominant. The U.S. has also prevented China from obtaining the most advanced computer chips. Cutler says Beijing is pushing back.

CUTLER: In the past year or two, we've seen China impose licensing restrictions and export restrictions on the export of three critical minerals.

NORTHAM: Critical minerals, which could be used to build up America's own electric vehicle industry, leaving the battle for technological dominance between the two countries raging on. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.