Biden Will Not Likely Roll Back Trump Campaign Against China Tech

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President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to reverse President Donald Trump’s challenge to China’s technology industry and companies — but Biden will likely be more targeted in his approach and collaborate with allies, experts told CNBC.

During his presidency, Trump has looked to challenge China’s technology industry through sanctions, executive orders and other actions. Biden will likely continue such a policy.

“The bullet has left the chamber. Trump has completely disrupted the status quo that existed between the U.S. and China for decades,” Abishur Prakash, a geopolitical specialist at the Center for Innovating the Future (CIF), a Toronto-based consulting firm, told CNBC by email.

The Trump administration has taken a number of actions against major Chinese technology firms.

One example was Huawei, which was put on a U.S. blacklist known as the so-called Entity List last year. That has restricted, and in some cases cut off, its access to U.S. technology like Google’s Android mobile operating system, a software that Huawei’s smartphones relied on.

Huawei’s smartphone sales have taken a hit as a result. The U.S. has also moved to cut Huawei off from key semiconductor supplies.

Semiconductors have been a particular area of focus for the Trump administration. SMIC, a company that is core to China’s push to be more self-reliant in chips, was added to a blacklist by the U.S. Commerce Department in mid-December.

The approach of cutting off China’s technology companies could continue under a Biden presidency.

“I think the admin will still see tech as a major source of competition and continue some of the Trump approaches to cutting off flow of critical tech to China,” said Adam Segal, director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

“The difference is process will be more collaborative, with both private sector and allies, and more focused on a narrower set of technologies,” he told CNBC in an email.

Paul Triolo, head of the geo-technology practice at risk consultancy Eurasia Group, agreed that the Biden administration will work with allies on its strategy regarding Chinese technology.

Triolo told CNBC Biden’s team will “clarify what should be controlled within the areas of emerging and foundational technologies.” Some of these areas will include artificial intelligence and so-called quantum computing, the next-generation of computing which uses quantum physics to solve problems that take existing computers years to solve.

“Here the preference of a Biden team will likely be to control less technologies, but set high walls around those that are deemed necessary to protect for national security reasons,” Triolo said in an email. “Also, I would expect the definition of what technologies are critical to control for national security reasons to be much clearer under a Biden administration than during the Trump years.”

Prakash says Biden will likely continue Trump’s push to have Chinese vendors excluded from next-generation 5G mobile networks around the world. The Trump administration has been pushing allies to cut Huawei from its networks. Australia, Japan and the U.K. have effectively done that.

The geopolitical specialist said Biden may also “recalibrate” in areas such as the blacklisting of Chinese companies or certain export controls, while also looking to innovate in terms of his approach to other areas like data rules of mergers and acquisitions.

One thing is for certain — the tech battle between the U.S. and China will continue under a Biden presidency, CNBC adds.

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