When US President Donald Trump hosts his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for dinner in Buenos Aires on Saturday, the stakes could not be much higher. It will be the first bilateral meeting between the two leaders since the start of the US-China trade war, which is set to escalate further in January if the two leaders fail to reach a deal this weekend. The dinner is widely perceived as the last chance to avert a broad-based economic clash that would likely last for at least two years, with ramifications for the global economy. Before the sideline meeting, Al Jazeera examines how the world's two largest economies got here and what happens next. Trump's hostility to Chinese economic policy dates back to his presidential campaign in 2016 and has been consistent over the past two years.
With leaders increasingly seeing artificial intelligence (AI) as helping to drive the next great economic expansion, a fear of missing out is spreading around the globe. Numerous nations have developed AI strategies to advance their capabilities, through investment, incentives, talent development, and risk management. As AI's importance to the next generation of technology grows, many leaders are worried that they will be left behind and not share in the gains. There is a growing realization of AI's importance, including its ability to provide competitive advantage and change work for the better. A majority of global early adopters say that AI technologies are especially important to their business success today--a belief that is increasing. A majority also say they are using AI technologies to move ahead of their competition, and that AI empowers their workforce. AI success depends on getting the execution right. Organizations often must excel at a wide range of practices to ensure AI success, including developing a strategy, pursuing the right use cases, building a data foundation, and cultivating a strong ability to experiment. These capabilities are critical now because, as AI becomes even easier to consume, the window for competitive differentiation will likely shrink. Early adopters from different countries display varying levels of AI maturity. Enthusiasm and experience vary among early adopters from different countries. Some are pursuing AI vigorously, while others are taking a more cautious approach.
On July 20, China's State Council issued the "Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan" (新一代人工智能发展规划), which articulates an ambitious agenda for China to lead the world in AI. China intends to pursue a "first-mover advantage" to become the "premier global AI innovation center" by 2030. Through this new strategic framework, China will advance a "three in one" agenda in AI: tackling key problems in research and development, pursuing a range of products and applications, and cultivating an AI industry. The Chinese leadership thus seeks to seize a "major strategic opportunity" to advance its development of AI, potentially surpassing the United States in the process. This new plan, which will be implemented by a new AI Plan Promotion Office within the Ministry of Science and Technology, outlines China's objectives for advances in AI in three stages.
As the Joint Chiefs of Staff gathered in Key West, Florida for a private meeting in March 1948, the first U.S. secretary of defense, James Forrestal, posed a simple question: "Who will do what with what?" The Air Force and Navy tussled over strategic nuclear bombers, while the Army and Marine Corps bickered over limitations to their respective end strengths. The resulting Key West agreement defined the primary functions of the services for the Cold War, but it didn't end the debate -- far from it. Interservice rivalries flared over atomic weapons and the "missile gap." Turf battles wasted critical time and money and introduced new dangers in command and control.
Lurking behind the Trump administration's trade conflict with China lies an abiding fear that the United States could be losing its advantage in the global technology race. In US policymaking circles more broadly, China's "Made in China 2025" policy – intended to ensure Chinese dominance in cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence (AI), aeronautics, and other frontier sectors – is viewed not just as an economic challenge, but as a geopolitical threat. Everything from US telecommunications infrastructure and intellectual property to America's military position in East Asia are considered to be at risk. The fact that technology is driving geopolitical tensions runs against the predictions of many scholars and policymakers. As recently as the mid-2000s, some suspected that geography would no longer play a meaningful role in the functioning of global markets.