Technological Cold War

From now until the November election, Donald Trump will multiply his protectionist gestures against China’s power.

The new Cold War is increasingly becoming an economic conflict and a battle for technological dominance between the United States and some of its allies, and China. Donald Trump signed two executive orders banning every transaction with TikTok and WeChat’s parent companies — the first, a very popular social network among teenagers in the U.S. and Europe; the second, widely used by Chinese citizens abroad. These two executive orders are a step further in a climate already charged with exchanges of recriminations and the president’s need to get back on his feet in the polls. There is no evidence that TikTok and WeChat gather more user data and in a more opaque manner than other widespread apps. However, in invoking national security to impose such restrictions, Trump is clinging to an old argument that was of great use to him in the 2016 campaign to mobilize a significant part of his voters — those hit by competition from Chinese industry.

The intention of the White House — for TikTok to sell the U.S. part of its business to an American company — is both feasible and complex. First, due to the number of accounts to be managed, about 100 million; second, due to the cost of the operation. Multinational corporation Microsoft seems willing to tackle the investment, but it is very unlikely that ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, satisfies the condition of making all of its programs available for a non-Chinese company.

In addition, Trump’s 45-day deadline to close the deal is unrealistic and has no other aim than to face the final stretch of the campaign with an ace up his sleeve: either canceling TikTok’s operations or transferring them to a U.S. company. In view of the background — obstacles in the adoption of 5G Chinese technology, tension arising from Huawei’s expansion — it seems unlikely that any concerns will be alleviated, regardless of the outcome of this crisis. On the contrary, it seems unavoidable that from now to the Nov. 3 election, the slights and extreme protectionism that Trump defends will multiply, particularly in the technological sector, where China seems to have taken the lead.

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