IF IMITATION IS the best form of flattery, one can only imagine the mandarins in Beijing blushing bashfully on February 6th as they eavesdropped on William Barr, America’s attorney-general, firing the latest shots in the tech cold war. One of America’s main concerns, he told a think-tank in Washington, DC, was Chinese dominance of fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology by Huawei. It had achieved this with totalitarian central planning. “As a dictatorship”, he said, “China can marshal an all-nation approach—the government, its companies, its academia, acting together as one.”
Mr Barr’s response to this threat? Central planning, also involving the state, business and academia, but in support of American goals, not Chinese ones. He said America and its allies should decide which “horse we’re going to ride in this race”. That might mean, he went on, that America’s government or its companies should buy controlling stakes in Huawei’s European rivals, Finland’s Nokia, Sweden’s Ericsson, or both—despite there being no precedent for such a move (at least one that does not involve covert operations). It also meant public and private sectors standing shoulder to shoulder against China’s technological blitzkrieg.
Call it state capitalism, American-style. In full 5G panic, President Donald Trump’s administration wants to co-opt...
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