We republish below an important piece of analysis by Keith Lamb, originally published in CGTN on 23 November 2021, seeking to understand the US’s motivations in imposing restrictions on China’s semiconductor industry. The author concludes that semiconductor technology is crucial for China’s goal of building a modern socialist country by 2049, and that the US and its allies are determined to impede – or ideally prevent – any further economic breakthroughs for socialist China.
Since 2015, the U.S. has introduced technological restrictions preventing China from both competing openly in consumer markets and acquiring technology. Restrictions have focused on the semiconductor industry and correlated sectors. For example, the Chinese chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International (SMIC) was blacklisted in December 2020, and, just before this, U.S. and non-U.S. chipmakers who use U.S. semiconductor technology, were forced to comply with U.S. sanctions meaning they could no longer take orders from companies like Huawei.
The U.S. has justified its actions by citing China’s civil-military integration where semiconductors can be used in advanced weaponry. However, even if true, considering the U.S. military and the microchip industry grew in tandem, this crossover wouldn’t be extraordinary. At any rate, it isn’t China’s military that surrounds the U.S., and nor does China seek to confront the U.S. which sits securely protected by two oceans and two compliant neighbors.
Another justification for countering China’s tech industry is based on spurious claims of human rights abuses. For example, Hikvision, which makes video equipment, was recently sanctioned due to linking it with Uygur “genocide” allegations. However, these assertions, just like Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, have proven to be a contemptible hoax. Consequently, the Uygur atrocity propaganda is part of a “problem-reaction” stratagem where U.S. aggression, such as semiconductor sanctions, can be camouflaged, to Western audiences, as a reasonable reaction to a pre-existing problem.
Indeed, since 2015 when the tech war started, when it comes to human rights, China has improved. Wages have risen, cities are becoming cleaner, corruption has declined, welfare has improved, transport is more efficient and extreme poverty no longer persists. This has led to China’s governing system receiving mass support.
However, this begs the question, as to what are the real reasons the U.S. seeks to engage in a tech war and stifle China’s semiconductor industry? The answer is complex but often overlooked is an international class analysis where social emancipation requires advanced technology. In China’s case, the blocking of China’s semiconductor industry is an attempt to block the construction of socialism.
When it comes to socialism and capitalism, China and U.S. capital have long engaged in a chess game where technology has been central. For example, market reforms in the Deng Xiaoping’s era drove up Western capital’s profits that accessed new markets and extracted a large surplus from Chinese labor. While China was stuck at the low end of the technological hierarchy this inequality allowed China to acquire advanced production processes and the very technology necessary for building socialism.
Importantly, as the Chinese, with their historical material outlook, are well aware, technological advances lead to epoch-changing realities. China’s goal of building a modern socialist country by 2049 is predicated on mastering semiconductor technology which is the linchpin of the modern age making innovations, such as, self-driving electric vehicles; fully-automated AI production systems, and supercomputers possible.
Looking at how technology led to previous social transformations we see that feudal technology restricted labor to farming where only a fraction of the surplus could support artisans, and entrepreneurs. Mechanization transferred labor to the factory and the increased surplus supported more workers engaged in scientific pursuits which further quickened technological progress. Simply put, we make technology but technology remakes us which further opens up new avenues for social and technological development.
It does not require an Albert Einstein to envisage how semiconductor mastery, in the right hands, can lead to future socialist outcomes. One can well imagine how driverless, and ownerless, cars lead to greater efficiency because resources are not duplicated or wasted in needless privatized consumption and maintenance. Fully automatic production frees up industrial labor for creative and inventive work thus further speeding up technological development and giving full play to the fundamental resource which is the non-alienated human being.
Consequently, for those whose transnational class hegemony rests on maintaining the capitalist mode of production, through dominating the technological heights, China’s potential socialist success, rather than any military prowess or human rights abuse, is the threat. Firstly, it breaks capitalism’s technological hegemony which hitherto allows it to extract a greater surplus from the Global South. Secondly, if the U.S. no longer monopolizes the heights of weapons technology, U.S. hard power which has been used, both prolifically and irresponsibly, to subjugate the Global South is blunted. Thirdly, China’s socialist example would break the monopoly of Western developmental ideology providing an alternative example not only to the Global South but the Western working-classes who might also request a socialist future.
No doubt, some may be skeptical of my analysis because they have been indoctrinated with the historical vision that “liberal capitalism” is the apex system that provides for optimum technological progress. However, if this is true the U.S. needs not restrict China’s socialist development because systemic “deficiencies” should lead to failure that can only be rectified through adopting “liberal capitalism.” However, China, with their historical materialist outlook, which correlates technology to social transformation, has already, even before their 2049 socialist goal, achieved astounding successes.
Thus, the failure of liberal ideology and China’s material success, coupled with the U.S. tech-war to contain China, proves that transnational “liberal capital” which control the U.S. obviously no longer believe in their own system’s innate superiority. However, like former feudal lords, these elites will nevertheless, through hook and crook, seek to preserve their systemic privileges which rest on preserving global technological inequality.