A group of Chinese researchers at Tsinghua University recently created a chip that combines conventional artificial intelligence (AI) with an AI inspired by the human brain. The team claims this breakthrough could lead to a more naturalized AI. The researchers demonstrated the capabilities of the new chip in a video of a self-driving bicycle that stands-up, balances itself, avoids obstacles, tracks objects and reacts to voice commands. This breakthrough is happening in the context of a US-China technology competition and trade war. Last May, the US put Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei on a trade blacklist to prevent US companies from selling components that might be used to threaten US national security. China is behind in traditional chip making, but AI chip making presents a huge opportunity for China to advance in the technology race. For China, this puts them one step closer to realizing its goal of being the world leader in AI by 2030.
Recent protests in Hong Kong occurred over a bill which would allow Hong Kong residents to be brought to court in mainland China for actions done in Hong Kong. More specifically, protesters in Hong Kong are concerned that freedom of expression is under attack because of fears that Hong Kong critics of China’s government might be extradited to the People’s Republic of China. These happenings come as part of a history of power struggles between China and Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a former British colony which was only recently given back to China in 1997. Hong Kong first became a British colony in 1842 after the First Opium War. The war occurred as an attempt by China to suppress an illegal British drug trade of Opium into China; the British won the war which lead to the Treaty of Nanjing. This treaty gave Hong Kong to British control. It was one of several unequal treaties between China and imperialist powers. China has in recent history sought to regain its strength on the global stage. The agreement in which Hong Kong was returned to China was described as creating “one country, two systems.” This recent bill is looking like a threat to the “two systems” part of the slogan. Perhaps this is a way for China to assert itself against Western power.
Hong Kong served as a refuge for mainland Chinese people during the invasion of China by the Japanese Empire during the Sino-Japanese war starting in 1937. Eventually the Japanese took over Hong Kong as part of the war, yet the British regained control after WW2. In 1984 Britain and China signed an agreement about Hong Kong, promising it will be returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the conditions that Hong Kong would keep its capitalist system and its partially democratic political system. Concerns now exist that this agreement seems to be under attack. If Hong Kong critics of the government in Beijing end up punished in mainland China for expressing their perspective, little hope is left for the “two systems” agreement.
Hong Kong is generally acknowledged as having high levels of free speech and civil liberties. Freedom House, a non-profit research group which studies political freedoms and human rights, provides yearly rankings of freedom in countries around the world. In 2019, Freedom House gave a “partly free” ranking to Hong Kong, while also giving a “not free” ranking to China. This would suggest that China exerting greater power over Hong Kong probably won’t be good for Hong Kong’s freedom.
On June 9th, more than a million people marched against the new bill. Three days after the protests began police shot rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons into a crowd outside a government complex. Journalists have been challenging government claims that the police didn’t use excessive amounts of force. A New York Times article “Hong Kong Protest Live Updates: Police Violence Puts Government on Defensive,” has reported that the Hong Kong police arrested a man who organized thousands of protestors using a smart-phone app. Hong Kong’s police commissioner has said that Hong Kong will not seek the assistance of the People’s Liberation Army. The commissioner added that 22 police officers were injured from the conflict. The English language China Daily publication, which is a media source owned by the Chinese communist party, has implied that the opposition to the new amendment is rooted in “foreign masters” who are opposing it at the expense of the city of Hong Kong. Another publication owned by the Chinese government, The Global Times, has described the opposition as “radical opposition forces” who are allegedly supported by “the Western forces behind them.”
United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May has expressed concern over the bill saying that the freedoms given to Hong Kong in the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration must be respected. She mentioned that many British citizens currently reside in Hong Kong. In the 19th century, Great Britain was more powerful than China, today this is clearly not the case. It’s unclear if Britain or the West in general can make much of a difference regarding what happens to Hong Kong. It remains to be seen if Hong Kong will find a way to defend its liberty against increasing control from the mainland.
The U.S. Treasury Department has placed designations last week upon two Chinese shipping companies due to their alleged assistance in violating sanctions on North Korea. Shipping industry sanctions on North Korea are related to concerns of materials reaching the North Korean nuclear weapons programs. China-US relations are characterized by strong economic interdependence as well as mutual distrust, the recent trade war is a core part of this relationship. China’s skepticism is rooted in concerns that US foreign policy decisions are too frequently unilateral. Last Thursday’s decision has been perceived in China as supporting this view. The US objects to China’s lose intellectual property protection.
Normalization of trade between the two countries only occurred in 2000 with the US’s decision to grant China ‘permanent normal trade relations’ (China Since 1949, page 111). Previous opposition to this decision were rooted in American concerns over China’s human rights record, including a lack of free speech, democracy, and the rule of law. Many of these concerns still exist and are still relevant to U.S.-China relations. How China and the U.S. relate to regimes with poor human rights records is important to how these nations are viewed around the world.
China has long responded with frustration to U.S. accusations of human rights abuses in China; China seeks to relate to the U.S. as between equals. Chinese critics of the U.S. have often cited the nation’s exceptionally high level of incarceration and its difficulties with racial justice issues. China’s rise has coincided with a decision to present itself as an emerging power which is committed to respecting the autonomy of other nations (China Since 1949, page 110). This decision could be seen as an attempt to replace the dominance of the West over global affairs; a dominance which has involved interventionism from major Western powers throughout the world.
China has objected to these new sanctions claiming that they follow all of the U.N. sanctions placed upon North Korea. Differences in economic philosophies between the U.S. and China are significant sources of potential disagreement over economic relations. China’s large state-owned sector, and its relative lack of intellectual property rights distinguish it from the U.S.’s free market capitalist system. Yet businesses have created a strong economic relationship despite these differences.
The perception that China’s economy is merely a manufacturing hub for the physical construction of Western technological ideas is untrue. China is increasingly focused on its own innovation, including mobile phone payment technology, artificial intelligence, and renewable energy. Sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies might be perceived as an example of China being made subordinate to the West.
China’s emphasis on technological innovation, its lack of obedience to Western standards, and its focus on economic growth shows that it is not seeking to play a passive or secondary role in the future; instead it is seeking to eclipse the leadership of the U.S. and the entire Western world. China’s persistent call for the United States to humble itself is exemplified in China’s objection to the sanctions.
A recent Brookings Institute article noted, “Over the past year, the U.S. has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports and China has retaliated, raising tariffs on U.S. exports” (1). According to U.S. government data in 2017 the total value of Chinese imports to the U.S. was slightly over 500 billion U.S. dollars (2). This means that the U.S. has in just the past year since last month imposed tariffs on roughly half of the financial value of Chinese imports from the United States two years ago. Clearly, this demonstrates the existence of tremendous tensions within one of the world’s largest economic partnerships.
The two Chinese companies blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department last Thursday are Dalian Haibo International Freight Co. Ltd., and Liaoning Danxing International Forwarding Co. Ltd. According to the Treasury Department website Dalian Haibo has been designated for providing goods and services to or in support of Paeksol Trading Corporation, “ OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Controls) previously designated Paeksol for having sold, supplied, transferred, or purchased metal or coal from North Korea, where the revenue may have benefited the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea. In early 2018, Dalian Haibo shipped cargo from Balian, China to Paeksol in Nampo, North Korea, aboard DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) flagged vessels.” (3)
The Treasury Department site summarized the restrictions placed upon the two companies in the following manner, “As a result of today’s action, any property or interests in property of the designated persons in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within transiting the United States is blocked, and U.S. persons generally are prohibited from dealing with the designated persons.” (3). Given the fact that the materials listed in the description of the illicit trading practice of Dalian Haibo could be used to assist North Korea’s military, it is clear that these occurrences constitute a threat to the security interests of the United States. This is especially true when one considers that the Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty (4).
The New York Times initially interpreted one of Trump’s tweets on Friday March 22nd 2019 as having implied that Thursday’s new sanctions had been revoked (5). However, Reuters offered a different interpretation, implying that Trump’s tweets were made in regards to other additional sanctions which had been proposed on the 22nd of March 2019, and that the sanctions from the 21st the day before the tweet still remain in effect (6). Since then, the NYT has updated itself and acknowledged that the sanctions remain in place (7). The confusion was over the language of Trump’s tweet which was in reference to sanctions that were announced by the Treasury Department “today,” however the day on which the tweet was released was the 22nd, and not on the 21st when the shipping companies were blacklisted (8).
China’s response to these new United States sanctions upon two of its companies is a good example of how it views its relationship with the United States. China believes that the United States is acting in a far too unilateral manner, and that it is bringing false human rights accusations against them. The United States believes that China has serious human rights problems, and that it is not consistently acting in the interests of U.S. security. However, both nations have a very important economic relationship which has had a definitive influence upon both societies. Given the size and power of the enormous exchange of trade between the United States and China, relations between these nations will surely continue to be an important strategic object of consideration.
Trade negotiations between the U.S. and China are occurring as Trump demands that Beijing end intellectual property violations against U.S. companies. A written agreement is being constructed about forced tech transfers, intellectual property, services, currency, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade. According to Reuters, “U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lightizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrive in Beijing on Thursday for a new round of talks with Chinese officials to work on a deal that would end a months-long trade war that has cost both sides billions of dollars and hurt global economic growth.(9)”
The stock market has responded positively to the news of this U.S.-China trade discussion, despite concerns over slowing global growth, especially sluggish growth in China and Europe (10). This shows the powerful influence which the U.S.-China relationship has on the economy. This marks a dramatic turnaround relative to stock market declines on the 27th. The new discovered confidence is rooted in major concessions being made by China in the trade negotiations. U.S. retail and housing sales have weakened. Despite these domestic and global weakness, the market has rebounded on the 28th due to the overwhelming importance of U.S.-China trade relations.
China’s assertion that it follows U.N. sanctions against North Korea is part of a broader need to affirm the validity of their economic transactions. China is making concessions in the trade war without admitting to accusations they regard as false. Demonstrating that they are not collaborating with a top enemy of the United States is an important part of the trust which needs to be established so that the trade war can end. These concessions show that China is not unwilling to admit that some of their policies and practices ought to change, even as they express frustration at perceived U.S. unilateralism and hypocrisy.
- https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-us-china-economic-relationship-a-comprehensiv e-approach/
- https://www.trade.gov/mas/ian/build/groups/public/@tg_ian/documents/webcontent/tg_ia n_003364.pdf
- https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-usa-peace-analysis/when-to-end-the-war- north-korea-us-at-odds-over-path-to-peace-idUSKBN1KG0PC
- https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-usa-sanctions-explanation/trump-did-not-r everse-north-korea-sanctions-on-chinese-shipping-companies-source-idUSKCN1R32X6
- https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2019/03/22/world/asia/22reuters-northkorea-usa-sancti ons-explanation.html
It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2019
- https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-trade-exclusive/exclusive-china-shifts-positi on-on-tech-transfers-trade-talks-progress-us-officials-idUSKCN1R905P
- https://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-stock-futures-attempt-tepid-rise-as-investors-awa it-final-gdp-report-2019-03-28
- https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-26/asia-stocks-set-to-rise-as-treasury -rally-eases-markets-wrap