Arriving in Beijing last month, I knew I would not be able to connect to Google, Facebook or Uber. As strange as it was to go without these staples of online life in the West, it was even stranger to find that local Chinese didn’t seem to feel deprived at all. They search through Baidu, get their social media fix on WeChat, hail rides on Didi, curate news through sites like Toutiao. And while they know Beijing is watching, they accept this surveillance as normal.
The Chinese government has carved out an alternative internet universe with its own brands, rules and culture, in which privacy doesn’t exist. But its real ambition is to break out of this parallel universe and dominate not just the internet but the technology industry worldwide. To contain Beijing, the United States and its allies are fighting back with a campaign of technoprotectionism, opening a perilous new front in the global trade battles.
President Trump is the unlikely leader of the fight against Chinese tech dominance. Widely seen as a champion of rust belt industries, he recently slapped heavy tariffs on all the leading aluminum and steel exporters, drawing fierce protests not only from China but also from American allies like Germany and Canada. But steel is a side show compared with the emerging tech battle with China.