US and China must build trust to develop technology of the future, corporate honchos tell forum

Lenovo chief executive Yang Yuanqing (far right) speaking at a panel discussion at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing yesterday. With him were (from left) Mr Huai Jinpeng, executive vice-president of China Association for Science and Technolo
Lenovo chief executive Yang Yuanqing (far right) speaking at a panel discussion at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing yesterday. With him were (from left) Mr Huai Jinpeng, executive vice-president of China Association for Science and Technology; Ms Samm Sacks, cyber-security fellow at New America; Ms Selina Wang, Bloomberg news anchor; Mr Gary Dickerson, CEO of Applied Materials; and Mr Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEW ECONOMY FORUM

BEIJING - Both the United States and China must find some way to build trust, at this time when "forces are pulling the two countries apart", several top executives from the two countries told a global forum in Beijing on Friday (Nov 22).

Failing to do so will make it difficult for their companies to both operate across borders, and innovate solutions needed to tap new opportunities, they said at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.

Growing tensions between Washington and Beijing have limited information and data flows, and collaboration between both sides, noted Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang.

"Quite frankly, the level of trust has all but gone away. And it is very difficult to have an environment where the first motive and the first thought is suspicion rather than trust, and I think that's the environment we now live in," said Mr Yang at a panel discussion on US-China rivalry and the impact of a digital iron curtain.

The tensions and differences also create problems for companies that operate across jurisdictions, he said.

Global brands like NBA and Versace have come under fire in China in recent years for expressing opinions or making statements not in line with Beijing's views, particularly on sensitive issues like Hong Kong or Taiwan.

Yahoo had also faced intense criticism outside of China for turning information over to the Chinese government, which was used to prosecute dissidents in the country.

"The companies that choose to operate in China... have to face the fact that you have to comply... and when governments aren't agreeing and there is no explicit way for companies to navigate these things, the companies need to recognise this is a risk," said Mr Yang.

The Bloomberg New Economy Forum, now in its second year, is held to discuss global issues including climate change and technology. But US-China tensions have dominated discussions at this year's gathering, which ends on Friday.

 
 
 

The point that both the US and China now view each other as strategic competitors was raised repeatedly at the forum, with the discussions spanning areas including technology, trade and the military.

Chief executive of semiconductor maker Applied Materials Gary Dickerson said it was "very, very important" for both sides to build trust if they were to develop the technology needed to solve future problems.

"The companies and the countries that will grow the fastest are the ones that collaborate the best; those are the ones that are going to win the future," he said.

Lenovo chief executive Yang Yuanqing also said the idea of decoupling was not "ethical".

"If you don't have uniform standards, and have separate standards for different countries, you will put consumers in a lot of discomfort," said Mr Yang.

Ms Samm Sacks, a cyber-security policy fellow at the New America think tank, said a new strategy was needed to ensure that cooperation can continue.

She noted that the US was pursuing a policy based on paranoia, where Chinese researchers and companies are viewed with suspicion. China, on the other hand, was pursuing a form of techno-nationalism, where technology is used as a tool of the state.

"US paranoia and Chinese techno-nationalism are not the basis for a technological relationship in this new era. We need guard rails and safeguards so that we can maintain legitimate areas of cooperation," she said.