Aug 27, 2021 - Technology
Column / Signal Boost

Lookalike tech policies in China, Europe and the U.S.

Illustration of top down view of opened laptops in a grid pattern.

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

For all their differences, Europe, China and the U.S. are making remarkably similar moves in tech policy.

The big picture: Nations and regions with wildly differing political systems and cultures have converged on a shared set of responses to the power of big tech firms: rein in the companies, avoid dependencies and subsidize critical networks and technologies.

China, which has long been accused of protecting domestic companies, has recently been taking action against companies, limiting their ability to raise foreign capital and collect user data.

The U.S. has long discounted the value of top-down industrial policy. But under the Biden Administration, it's moving to boost the U.S. semiconductor industry, among other sectors that are seen as critical to future economic and national security.

Europe, caught in the middle, has been trying to take action on the antitrust front while navigating the U.S.-China battle over 5G and networking.

Political strategist Bruce Mehlman highlighted the similar moves in a recent presentation that characterizes the common strategy as:

  1. Tame the internet
  2. Restrain the dominant
  3. Subsidize the critical
image of Bruce Mehlman presentation slide on tech policy in China, U.S. and EU
Image: Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas

The big picture: The policy convergence comes as each region looks to deal with similar trends that challenge existing rules, including cryptocurrency and the gig economy.

  • The three regional powers are also eyeing the power of large tech companies and using antitrust regulation as one means to limit it.

Yes, but: Both China and the U.S. will likely want to make sure that the pressure they exert on homegrown companies doesn't inadvertently benefit the overseas competition.

  • That's definitely an argument that U.S. tech giants are using in their dialogues with state and federal officials.

Between the lines: One of the trickiest parts of these parallel policies is the effort to boost technological independence.

  • China has been on this path for a while, though the motivation certainly accelerated during the Trump Administration amid battles over Huawei, trade issues and cybersecurity.
  • Despite significant efforts to boost its domestic capabilities, China remains highly dependent on the U.S. for both chips and software.
  • U.S. companies, meanwhile, have scrambled to be less dependent on China for manufacturing, but it remains a key supplier of cell phones, computers, TVs and other electronics.
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