Technology has become one of the most important spheres in the race for power in the 21st century. The two main technology ecosystems – the American and the Chinese – have clearly taken shape by the beginning of the third decade of the new century. A dilemma for Russia in this regard is whether to join one of the existing platforms or develop one of its own.
The choice in favour of the first option implies negotiating the conditions for joining. The second option requires a more ambitious strategy that will determine the key parameters of a Russian techno-ecosystem.
The American system is the oldest, the largest and the best developed. It relies on the United States’ undisputed technological leadership. A key goal of America’s technology strategy is to retain the innovation initiative, prolong its own dominance, and prevent comparable rivals from entering the global marketplace. To this end, America is working on its human resources, creating preferential conditions for its start-up ecosystem development, and using methods of competition that have nothing to do with the economy.
The high market capacity and favourable conditions at home have enabled the United States to bring to the market the largest technology and internet giants whose intellectual property rights are protected by law. An indirect but significant factor in the American techno-economic system is the creation of numerous common goods. All this allows American companies to supply trial versions of their own products to the whole world, giving the user access to one of the most advanced technologies without excessive costs. These principles of digital openness and freedom offered by the United States are quite appealing. However, there is little doubt that the moment Americans start questioning their own hegemony in the technological environment, these principles will be immediately revised and insurmountable boundaries and barriers will be built to contain competitors and protect American leadership.
Only in this case, the companies played for the political establishment against the unwanted “spoiler” of the system. The team of political, financial and technological globalists is likely to continue to work together in the coming years to oppose the national industrial agenda in America and other countries. At the same time, concerns are voiced in the Democrats’ camp that as convenient as the technology offered by corporations is, the growing influence of tech giants is dangerous because “they hold so much economic power” as well as “wield so much control over political communication.” The corporations’ dominance in the dissemination of information and their ability to politically rally huge audiences is already a threat to democratic governments.
China’s techno-economic platform is smaller than the American one; still, its technological leadership claims are just as obvious. Its significant financial and human resources allow the Chinese ecosystem to remain closed to the outside world while administratively reallocating resources to those areas of technology that CPC Politburo deems the most promising. The Chinese were the first in the world to experiment with the autonomy of a number of engines and services, building the Great Firewall of China. Whereas the Americans provide the world with trial versions of their products, the Chinese model’s competitiveness relies on the low cost of their offer and co-financing of other states’ advanced projects. At the same time, China is playing a waiting game and does not react to US provocations. China rightly views America as a bigger and stronger player in this area. However, the pace of growth in the Chinese technology industry allows Beijing to think it is just a matter of time before it reaches a market position comparable with the United States. It is unlikely the Americans will be able to stop this process. World politics needs more pragmatism now, and heeding that need, an increasing number of America’s allies – including in Europe – welcome China’s proposals for digital cooperation.
The key European nations – Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands – fear dependence on the United States and China. France shows a special concern with developing a national technology platform. The Europeans are afraid of losing their identity in the global technological environment and ultimately finding themselves in a situation where their votes will not be counted.
Russia and Europe are united by fears of becoming dependent on leading players and losing their autonomy. At the same time, Russia, like some other European countries, has the competence to establish an independent pole of power in the digital sphere. Russia’s arguments about the need to develop a data interoperability standard are more likely to be heard in Europe than in China or the United States. The latter two have a significant amount of data of their own that they are not ready to share with third countries. However, the political differences between Moscow and Europe can become an insurmountable obstacle to a broad collaboration, which is an additional motivator for Russia to build its own technology platform.