The Long Competition Just Got More Competitive
Ben Thompson from Stratechery wrote a seminal piece (paywall) on his blog October 8th about the conflict between the US and Chinese cultures, technology companies, and governments inspired by the “NBA incident.” He makes several key points:
China blocks US technology firms from operating in China while theirs operate globally and in the US.
The idea of engagement with China leading to a freer and more open China was a delusion.
China has moved from censoring content inside the Great Firewall to attempting and often succeeding (see Disney) in censoring content elsewhere for any company operating in China even if that company is American.
Thompson also points out the irony of getting mad at an NBA GM for saying relatively innocuous things on a social network, Twitter, that China also censors. How did everyone know to block access to the NBA without having read Twitter? One wonders.
The point is that this is a bit of a Sputnik moment but not in a technological sense but in a competition sense. US tech and other executives all over America should be waking up and asking if the NBA, Twitter, and TikTok are all problems, what isn’t going to be a problem? Is the price for accessing the Chinese market, losing the US one? I can’t imagine there wouldn’t have been a complete apocalypse if the NBA hadn’t smartly backed up its GM. It’s simply not tenable to play both sides anymore. I’d be rolling back those Chinese expansion plans and looking for new markets. It similar to the moment many Chinese executives must have had when Hauweii’s CFO was arrested at US behest in Canada.
Thompson concludes by saying why he is so hesitant to speak up against China. To some extent, it is fear of retribution and being iced out of China-related tech stories. That is a well-founded fear based on the actions of the Chinese to date. But he also makes another point, one that I hear echoed all over Washington, DC and East and West Coast elite bastions. There’s a sudden realization that the global citizen dream is dying and mostly already dead for Chinese and US citizens. Maybe Europeans can flit back and forth but the sides are being drawn and the long competition between China and the US has entered a new phase.