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U.S. panics over China tech threat

A prototype C919, China's foray into civilian aviation. Photo: Qilai Shen / Bloomberg / Getty

The U.S. is experiencing a revival of Japan syndrome, harking back to the late 1970s when "Made in Japan" abruptly stopped being a source of mirth, Americans began to snap up Toyotas and Nissans in big numbers, and Detroit sank into a profit-and-jobs bloodbath.

The big picture: Five years ago, American technologists sneered at China's Baidu and its new search engine. But "they aren't laughing anymore," says Gregory Allen, an AI expert at the Center for a New American Security. "Now they are marveling at Baidu's advances in artificial intelligence."

Chinese Big Tech is one dimension of a juggernaut that's collectively terrifying the Trump administration, Silicon Valley and the western foreign policy community.

It's "Made in China 2025," Beijing's three-year old game plan for dominating the 10 biggest technologies of the future, such as AI, robotics and electric cars.

  • Driving the news: In a 215-page investigation released in March, the U.S. Trade Representative cites China 2025 111 times, notes CFR's Lorand Laskai.
  • Where it stands: The Trump administration is pushing China to stop encouraging the theft of U.S. intellectual property. And just this week, the government took action to stop the sale of Huawei telecommunications gear by U.S. carriers, and barred ZTE from buying U.S.-made components.
  • Between the lines: A conviction that, like Japan conquered cars, China may actually manage to pull off its tech ambitions. And not only would it have the most advanced versions of these technologies, but it would effectively block off its market for competition in these leading sectors.

Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Axios that the West is not being alarmist.

"We are right to be concerned... Japan, Germany — anyone who has advanced sectors are concerned about the lack of a level playing field. These are the technologies of the future."
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