One such risk is Trump’s Executive Order on TikTok, which presents administration as a question of data sovereignty. Administration officials cite fears that the video-sharing app will allow Chinese people to access data that is mostly used by American teenagers and could be used for more insidious purposes. However, this attempt to control data could set a dangerous precedent for US companies operating in Europe, where some officials do not want data to be stored in the US, Schmidt says. Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram owned by Facebook, said Friday that any short-term benefit to Facebook from banning TikTok “will be significantly outweighed by the risks of a fragmented Internet.”
Another problem is the proposed restrictions on WeChat, which is not only the largest messaging platform in China but also the primary mobile payment system. Detailed rules have not yet been released, but the order could ban WeChat on Chinese iPhones or phones with Google’s Android. For American retailers like Starbucks or McDonald’s, the inability to use WeChat’s mobile payments app would potentially drive most Chinese consumers away.
The beneficiaries of this crude approach will be the very Chinese firms like Huawei that the government wants to punish. In the meantime, companies like Apple, which depend on China for nearly a sixth of their sales, could be devastated.
Tech’s preliminary backlash is overwhelmed by feverish anti-China sentiment, even if it could hurt American interests, some analysts say. “This non-debate that we are having is primarily due to the desire to violate China at all costs,” said Evan Feigenbaum, China expert and former Asia adviser to President George W. Bush, who is now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is.
Instead, many policy experts advocate a different approach – a US-led effort to compete with global standards and global platforms that dominate the market. From this perspective, it makes more sense to question Chinese attempts to set global standards than to divide the Internet into competing areas.
Schmidt, the former Google CEO, is a major Democratic giver who has long defended Google’s efforts to do business in China. He acknowledges China’s serious security and competitive challenges, but says the US needs a well-designed strategy to identify, develop, and protect key areas of the technology. He is a member of the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the Minister of Defense on promoting technological innovation. He suggests that the US identify and focus on five or ten key technologies like artificial intelligence, including putting in place security controls. “High walls, small property” is the new slogan for this approach.
Technical decision-makers, some of whom are involved in the Biden campaign, told WIRED that they expect a Biden government to take a more nuanced approach.
“A Biden government would think rationally about how we can remain the best innovative force in the world,” predicts Anja Manuel, a specialist in Asia, technology and security interactions and director of the Aspen Security Forum. Manuel is close to the Biden campaign despite having served in previous Republican administrations and co-founding an influential consulting firm with three former Bush cabinet officials.
These advisors advocate working with allies in Europe and Japan to establish global export controls that prevent China from circumventing US sanctions by buying technology elsewhere. They want to increase R&D spending, fund basic research, and give Chinese and other students the opportunity to study at US universities
These voices will be heard in a Biden administration, says former Obama official Bader. “Biden as opposed to Trump is a dealmaker. That is its nature. He’s never going to be the type to say we have to take an ideological position. “
However, some fear that the decoupling of the Chinese and US economies has gained momentum that will persist even if Biden wins the presidency. “The trajectory is being burned in,” argues Feigenbaum, who advises companies doing business in China. “A year from now, many of these things will be difficult to reverse.”
Others expect space to push back the worst excesses of the anti-China wave. However, the power of the tough anti-China narrative at this moment is hard to deny.
“Nuances and differences are not going to help win the political battle,” said Eileen Donahoe, a former Obama official who heads Stanford University’s Global Digital Policy Incubator. “Donald Trump managed to control the dominant political narrative with a simple political idea – ‘China bad’.”
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