The US-China technology rivalry heats up – Financial Times

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Marc Filippino, James Politi, Simon Mundy and James Kynge
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This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: The US-China technology rivalry heats up
Marc Filippino
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Monday, March 28th, and this is your FT News Briefing.
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The White House is doing damage control after Joe Biden’s unscripted remark about Vladimir Putin. The British bank HSBC is scrubbing out the word “war” in reference to Ukraine. Plus, China is in a bitter battle with the US to control technologies of the future.
James Kynge
This is absolutely front and centre of the crucial global rivalry between the established superpower, the US, and the rising superpower, China. There couldn’t be anything more important than this.
Marc Filippino
Our global China editor, James Kynge, explores how this rivalry is playing out. He’s hosting the new season of the FT’s Tech Tonic podcast, we’ll have all the highlights. I’m Marc Filippino and here’s the news you need to start your day.
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US president Joe Biden yesterday returned from his trip to Europe, a trip widely seen as successful. He met with European leaders, strengthened the Nato alliance and resolved to support Ukraine against Russia’s attack. But at the very end of his last speech in Poland, the president made a remark.
Joe Biden
For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.
Marc Filippino
The man there being Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. The FT’s Washington bureau chief James Politi was travelling with Biden on his trip. We caught him at the airport after getting back. James says the president’s comment was not part of the prepared remarks.
James Politi
However, he did say it quite emphatically and with purpose, so I don’t think it was an accidental remark. I think it was a deliberate remark. I think the issue with it is that the US has a policy that it doesn’t, it’s not seeking regime change.
Marc Filippino
So the White House went into damage control. James, can they put the genie back in the bottle?
James Politi
It’s gonna be tough to recover from the fallout from that statement, just because western allies in particular are looking very closely at where there might be some scope for a settlement here. And this was seen as potentially reducing the chances for a settlement if President Putin feels under attack, it kind of gives some extra oxygen to Russian propaganda. And I think the question now is, you know, to what extent can the White House and senior administration officials limit the damage and recapture the narrative, which ultimately was a fairly good one. You know, Nato is not an aggressive alliance, you know, it doesn’t want Putin to remain in power, but that didn’t mean that this is a real shift in policy on the part of the White House.
Marc Filippino
James Politi is the FT’s Washington bureau chief.
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Many western companies have curtailed or suspended operations in Russia. One that has not is the British bank HSBC. And now, the FT’s Simon Mundy reports HSBC is taking out the word “war” in reference to events in Ukraine from its analyst reports.
Simon Mundy
We don’t know why it’s been happening, and we know that several people, multiple people inside the bank, have been very unhappy about this. We certainly know for certain that the Russian government strongly doesn’t like using the word “war” in relation to this. As you probably know, they call it a special military operation. So HSBC does have assets of less than a billion dollars in the country, but they do have more than 200 people. So one person close to the company did say to us that, you know, one has to remember that there is a law in Russia that has just recently been passed, which criminalises the spreading of what the Russian government considers false information in relation to this war. So in theory, perhaps one could suggest that anyone who is connected with the use of that word who lives in Russia could be put at risk. But certainly there are people inside the bank who feel that this is not appropriate, that this is a war, that is a fact, and to beat around the bush with the language of that and to hold back from describing it as what it is looks inappropriate.
Marc Filippino
Simon Mundy is the FT’s Moral Money editor.
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Chinese scientist
[banging sound] I was thinking, who would pound people’s door like that? So I run without even . . . 
Marc Filippino
That’s a Chinese scientist recalling the night FBI agents came to his door to arrest him. He was a professor at a university in the US city of Philadelphia. The sounds you heard were not the actual sounds from that night, but he described the event to our global China editor, James Kynge.
James Kynge
It turns out that the FBI believed he was a Chinese spy and that he’d been sharing tech secrets with the Chinese government. It’s the beginning of an incredible story that underlines how worried the US has become about China’s technological advances and the growing battle between the US and China over who produces and who controls the technology that we all use.
Marc Filippino
James is going to explore this high-stakes, high-tech rivalry in the new season of our Tech Tonic podcast. This story focuses on US efforts to clamp down on Chinese espionage.
James Kynge
So this focus by the US on alleged Chinese espionage really began to intensify in, during the Trump administration. And it was during the Trump administration when the US launched what was called the China Initiative. And the remit of the China Initiative was to look for and root out these Chinese spies that were taking US technology and US technological knowhow from the US to China. This resulted both in some convictions but also in some wrongful accusations. This China Initiative was scrapped, at least in name, in February this year. But as we’ve heard from FBI officers, it’s only been scrapped in name. The actual investigations into potential Chinese spies of US technology and technological knowhow are continuing.
Marc Filippino
So James, how big of a problem is Chinese technology espionage?
James Kynge
The consensus is that there really is a lot of corporate espionage going on. The problem is that some Chinese nationals working and living in the US have been targeted by US authorities apparently because of their links to China rather than because of hard evidence of espionage. And, you know, several convictions have taken place, is something that I think a lot of people don’t realise. There’s a very big geostrategic aspect to this because. of course, China is now either drawing level or pulling ahead of the US in many technological areas. And therefore, if US technological knowhow is bleeding over from the US to China, that’s a big issue. But it’s also a really big issue of human rights. If Chinese academics are being falsely accused in America of espionage they didn’t commit, then it’s terribly important from, you know, as I said, a human rights perspective.
Marc Filippino
That’s the FT’s global China editor James Kynge, he’s the host of season three of our Tech Tonic podcast. It drops today. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts.
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Before we go, we’ve got a special offer for our News Briefing listeners. You can buy a digital subscription to the FT at half the usual price. That’s all our outstanding journalism, that’s normally behind the paywall, for $187 a year, that’s normally $375. Just go to FT.com/briefingsale. That’s a full year standard digital subscription for just $187. Again, that’s FT.com/briefingsale. We’ll also have a link in the show notes.
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This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.
This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.
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