Economic decoupling has already started for Beijing

A CloudMinds robot on display in Barcelona on February 26, 2019.
A CloudMinds robot on display in Barcelona on February 26, 2019. PAU BARRENA / AFP

Specializing in artificial intelligence systems for robots, CloudMinds is one of those Chinese nuggets that give the American administration nightmares. The company is among 24 new companies in the country banned from using US technology without specific permission from Washington. Announced by the State Department on May 22, this decision takes effect on Friday June 5. But the measure doesn’t seem to have taken CloudMinds short.

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Receiving The world two weeks earlier, its officials said they had given up, in 2019, opening a research & development (R&D) center in the United States. “Because of the trade war, we had to change our strategy. Finally, we are refocusing on China where we will open our R&D centers ”, a company spokesperson told us. In the showroom of the Beijing headquarters of CloudMinds, some robots dance to the sound of music, others equipped with wheels and cameras can patrol the streets, others were used to bring meals to Wuhan hospitals for the sick with Covid-19.

A double answer

CloudMinds is no exception. China has taken note of the ongoing decoupling of the economies, the price of its own success. She knows that the parenthesis opened by her membership in 2001 in the World Trade Organization (WTO) is closing. From the United States to Europe via India and Australia, all of its partners are now more reserved regarding its investments. On May 23, the second day of the annual session of the Chinese Parliament, President Xi Jinping made it very clear: China is “Faced with a large number of international challenges, in particular (…) the downside of economic globalization, the protectionism of certain countries and the increase in geopolitical risks “.

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The response of the Middle Kingdom is twofold: develop internal demand – 600 million Chinese have a monthly income of just 125 euros, recalled the Prime Minister, Li Keqiang – and promote new technologies made in China , in order to reduce the country’s dependence on Western products.

Because if Westerners worry about their dependence on China, the opposite is also true. Yesterday presented as a factor of growth, the interdependence of the economies is more and more perceived today by Beijing as a risk not only economic, but also strategic. For Xi Jinping, this is the “National security” which is at stake. “In China, many voices believe that it is clearly in the interest of the country to strongly reduce interdependence with the United States”, analyzes Julian Gewirtz, author of a very thorough American study on “The Chinese reassessment of interdependence”, published on 1er June by China Leadership Monitor.

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