Chinese “Techno-Autocracy” vs American “Techno-Democracy

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Policy Proposal Committee Member, JFSS/Visiting Professor, Kanazawa Institute of Technology Masatoshi Fujitani

The Biden administration of the United States placed Semiconductors, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the next-generation communication network at the core of the U.S. strategy for Asia to concentrate “Techno-democracy” which competes against “Techno-autocracy" led by authoritarian states like China. The core of the policy is the concept titled “Techno-democracy 12", consisting of 12 democratic nations known for possessing cutting-edge technologies. The concept was initially proposed by Mr. Jared Cohen, a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) member, and Mr. Richard Fontaine, CEO of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). The above-mentioned democratic nations are the United States, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Finland, Sweden, India, and Israel. The purpose is to strengthen cooperation with advanced democratic nations to enable the security of cutting-edge technologies and reduce economic vulnerabilities. It also aims to promote the development of technologies and stable supplies of products in various fields, e.g. semiconductors, artificial intelligence, and next-generation communication networks.
 
Among them, semiconductors are an essential technology for society today and are used in various products, e.g. cars, smartphones, and computers. Securing stable supplies for the semiconductor industries and reducing economic risks is critically important. Also, there is a need to realize international cooperation to tackle technical threats such as cybersecurity and high-tech crimes. The techno-democracy 12 concept aims at increasing economic competitiveness through cooperation in the technological sector; hence, the participating nations can produce results jointly and enhance the international standing of each nation. To sum up, the Techno Democracy 12 concept is a convention of democratic nations which pursues sustainable growth and security through the fusion of technologies and politics. 
 
Furthermore, the Biden Administration released the U.S.-led economic zone concept “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity” (IPEF) to the public in May 2022, anticipating that close cooperation among Japan, the United States, Taiwan, and South Korea is inevitable in the case of China’s invasion of Taiwan and the semiconductor supply chain being cut off.
 
In September 2022, the four pillars of the IPEF were released: “High standard and balanced fair trade," "Strengthening supply chain," "Clean economy," and "Fair economy." The 14 IPEF member states comprise Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.
 
“Techno-autocracy” and “Techno-democracy”
 
What are the differences between Chinese “techno-autocracy” and the U.S. “techno-democracy"? Techno-autocracy is the integration of technology and autocracy. In the techno-autocracy, technologies are used as tools for political and social controls. The moves of people and information flow are monitored and controlled through information technologies such as the Internet and social media, which enables the person with power to dominate the nation. The characteristics of the techno-autocracy are “information intended by the government and person with power flows into the society as the core values through the use of technologies to control the information flow”, “Identify and oppress individuals and organizations opposing the governments and person with power through the use of technologies”, “Technology companies and the platforms exercise political influences and collaborate with the government to control the personal information and moves of the people”. With the rapid development of technologies, techno-autocracy has been catching attention as the concept reflects the changes in the power structure of information society.
 
On the other hand, techno-democracy is a fusion of technology and democracy. It emphasizes that technologies promote democratic processes and values. Furthermore, it contributes to the soundness of democracy and promotes participation in democracy. The characteristics of techno-democracy are as follows: “Popularization of the technologies will realize easy access to information, and the public can share the information to exchange their opinions freely. Moreover, it will increase the transparency of the decision-making process and strengthen the principles of democracy." "Technologies such as the internet and social media function as platforms to promote the participation in politics. Online political discussions and activities will increase the people’s participation in politics and improve the soundness of democracy" "Through the use of technology-based communication tools and online platforms, the citizens can easily manage political institutionalization and moves. There will be increased opportunities that the voices of the citizens will affect political decisions and strengthen democracy. “, “Technology-based open data of the government and e-government services will increase transparency of the government and increase their responsibilities. The citizens can easily receive information regarding the government’s acts and its decision-making process to monitor them."
 
Techno-democracy can further realize an inclusive and participatory political system through combining technologies and democratic values. However, the use of technologies faces potential risks and challenges. Therefore, regulations and monitoring at appropriate levels are needed.
 
Expansion of foreign tech firms into Japan
 
Amidst the current confrontation between China and the United States, the expansion of crucial foreign tech firms into Japan became apparent. Open AI, a U.S. company known for developing conversational artificial intelligence called “Chat GPT”, is planning to establish its first business hub in the Asian region in Japan. In cooperation with Open AI, Microsoft also revealed a plan to strengthen its data center in Japan by investing 2.9 billion dollars over the next two years. They will introduce the latest semiconductors suitable for the development of AI and its operations. Several other companies, such as Amazon Web Service (AWS) and Google, competing against Microsoft in cloud service, stepped onto the large-scale investments for data centers in Japan to participate in a competitive bid for public cloud for Japanese administrative authorities.
 
Also, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world's largest commissioned semiconductor manufacturing company, will start the mass production of operational semiconductors at a factory in Kumamoto prefecture. By the end of 2024, the company will have invested 1.3 trillion Yen in this project. The company is also planning to build its second factory, aiming to start production in 2027 by investing an additional 2 trillion Yen. 
 
 Japan's advantages include geopolitical importance from an economic security perspective and the appropriate size of its domestic market and industry accumulation. It plays a vital role in the U.S. “Techno-democracy” to compete with the Chinese “Techno-autocracy." However, in the near future, if the further concentration of tech firms occurs in Japan, Japan’s national commitment, including the significant improvement of the distribution of electricity to meet the demands for generative AI, which consumes an enormous amount of electricity, must be strengthened.
 
Reference: “Open AI, Microsoft, increasing investments toward Japan. Economic security on tailwind” (April 15th 2024, Nikkei Shimbun)