COOPETITION: How Silicon Valley could bring US Global Recovery Leadership
The current crisis is more than about public health. With great power politics making such a visible comeback, quite a number of analyses have recently focused on the pandemic’s impact on the global order. This is a watershed moment, some have argued, as the US withdrawal from international affairs has coincided with the coronation of China as the new major source of global public goods. Past weeks’ developments seem to confirm such a narrative: after being the first country hit by the pandemic, China has quickly bounced back and has openly engaged in so-called “mask diplomacy”, a strategy for which it has received both praise and raised eyebrows or strong criticism. At the same time, an equivalent American answer has been perceived slower abroad, partly justified by the US turning into the new global epicenter. Other than the feud with China, travel bans, and a few phone calls with other world leaders, President Trump has followed his America first strategy and refrained from coordinating an international response to the health crises. The EU, also criticised initially for an apparent slow response, caught up this week also on the financial side, ramping up a global donors conference which resulted more than 8 billion dollars for covid19.
However, the US can make a strong comeback in the global arena and lead globally in terms of a coordinated economic response. American disengagement has only highlighted the need for clear international guidance. The Asian century is not a self-fulfilling prophecy; it depends on leadership choices, citizens’ ingenuity, and a clear way out of the mega crisis we are faced with. As things stand today, the US still has a major advantage over any other country, an advantage that it would allow to be a decisive contributor to solving the pandemic conundrum, and to shape the post-Covid-19 world. The technological edge and the competitiveness of the big American companies, together with their potential integration with the state and federal government, still give the US the edge in global affairs. Already setting the tone in philanthropy, Silicon Valley can lead in the Covid-19 era and portray US -via its tech industry- as a model at home and abroad in times of great transformations.
We have already seen multiple examples of how technology can be a force for the better during the pandemic. Data analytics and predictive models have already been integrated to determine the evolution of infections or better diagnostic procedures. Immense computing power is currently employed to find the vaccine. New apps have been used to make social distancing more efficient. Drones are an easy tool to distribute medicine, while robots can reduce the risk of infections, disinfecting hospitals and other public areas. Telemedicine and online work are the buzzwords of these days, with an immense market being ready for innovation and creative solutions. The universities will have to change their modus operandi, and the online transition will require adaptation. Finally, as we are trapped at home, we realize how eager we are for services that would reimagine social life and make the experience not only bearable, but also enjoyable.
In terms of great power competition, although China is catching up, American tech is still best positioned to shape this multi-sectoral response to the pandemic. And lead at home while providing tools and solutions for the US to lead abroad. It has the resources, the minds and the innovation infrastructure to redesign and reimagine not only a particular domain, but the way economic, social, and political life is taking place. We even see progress in stemming the “infodemic” of false coronavirus claims. Making sense of the “new normal lives” will create the context for further innovation. Even President Trump, who has criticized in the past sometimes technology companies, is in close coordination with the big Tech and has asked Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter for help.
At a time of government intervention, US tech leadership can use its creative thinking to imagine a successful path out of the crisis, one that is rooted in its philosophy and based on collaboration with political leaders and governments. Moreover, despite seeming counter-intuitive in terms of apparent AI race, there ispotential for these companies to provide incentives for the U.S. and China to resume cooperation, at least on some aspects. Yes, great power rivalry is here to stay — a consequence of incompatible values and ideologies as well as natural economic competition–, but a tactical pause is not impossible. Like a famous soundbite says: “we live to fight (and compete, I may add) another day”. Here, a few bold joint initiatives by US and Chinese tech companies (in a framework of cooperative competition — “coopetition”) would show to decision-makers how things should be done. Tech can lead at home and abroad, by inspiring examples and crisis solutions, thereby shaping dimensions of great power competition as well as cooperation, the latter needed amid fears of prolonged global recession. This would not achieve America Healthy First, but would make America Global Recovery Leader afterwards. After all, being powerful and an inspirational example is about rising up after a fall, not about avoiding any fall out.