Competition for hegemony between the U.S. and China is a hot topic recently in world politics. In particular, the conflict between the two countries over artificial intelligence, semiconductors and 5G technologies is of utmost interest. The battle for technological hegemony between the United States and China is not just a matter of technology, but is an intensive competition involving the fields of military power and security, economic power and prosperity, and the cultural ideological values of both countries.
One can condense the ongoing discourse on technological hegemony between the U.S. and China into two issues. The first issue involves who will ultimately win in this competition. The second issue concerns how South Korea will respond. While technological superiority is recognized as an important condition for hegemony, the key points are whether China can successfully meet the challenge of technological hegemony; how long it will take, if China is successful, and whether the United States will be able to maintain its technological superiority.
Historically, hegemony was not conditioned on technological superiority, but a result of it. After the Civil War, the United States became the center of the world’s manufacturing industry through rapid industrialization, surpassing Britain’s gross domestic product in the 1880s, and even surpassing Britain’s per capita GDP in the 1920s. At the time of World War I, American military technology fell short of British and German military technology. Despite the performance of the U.S. Navy Advisory Committee, which consisted of some of the best mechanical experts in the United States, including Thomas Edison, it did not outperform German and British military technology.
Britain and Germany overwhelmingly won Nobel Prize awards in science, which began in 1901, for decades, and it was not until around 1940 that the winners began to emerge from the United States. The U.S. caught up with Britain and Germany’s economic power early on, but it took more time to overtake Britain and Germany in military technology and basic science. The point is that the current overwhelming technological superiority of the United States is not a guarantee of continued American hegemony.
One needs to view the competition between the U.S. and China for technological hegemony in the longer term, as part of the evolution of the two countries’ technological innovation systems, and of their military, economic and ideological capabilities, rather than viewed in terms of current technological superiority. From a technology perspective, the core of South Korea’s strategy in responding to the competition between the U.S. and China for technological hegemony deals with which technology Korea can continue to bring to the global market, and what kind of future society we will choose and create based on technology. Although it is important to maintain the dominance of semiconductors for the long term, it is also necessary to prepare and implement strategies for making post-semiconductor products and realizing the possibilities and challenges of new technologies.
The biggest problem that has emerged as the development of artificial intelligence biotechnology progresses within the framework of the competition between the U.S. and China is that recognizing and responding to civil challenges posed by these technologies have been put on the back burner, and technology development is focused on overcoming the opposition. Accordingly, the winner of the competition between the U.S. and China for technological hegemony is likely to be the technology that eliminates human participation, not the U.S. or China.
International cooperation and international norms are essential to identify and coordinate responses to problems caused by killer robots in charge of national security, leading production by artificial intelligence robots, heterogeneous combinations of humans and machines, and expanding the metaverse. Mid-sized countries, including South Korea, should join together to lead international cooperation in this time of competition between the U.S. and China on issues as important as who becomes the world’s political hegemony.