Atlantic Council Releases new report on international technology standards and geopolitics

By Atlantic Council (Thur, October 14, 2021)

The Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center today released a landmark report studying the relationship between technology standards setting and geopolitics, titled “Standardizing the future: How can the United States navigate the geopolitics of international technology standards?”

The report, published in partnership with the American Edge Project, studies the geopolitical dynamics surrounding technology standards-setting to better inform US policy, considering in particular the relationship between standards and Sino-US relations. This work examines China’s engagement with standards-setting and asks: How is Chinese strategy for standards-setting changing over time? Is there reason to worry that the People’s Republic of China may disproportionately impact the selection and enforcement of technological standards in the future? And what would that mean for US standards policy?

“As I have previously cautioned, China aspires to be the world’s dominant tech leader. Indeed, as President Biden has rightfully noted, China believes it will ‘own America’ by 2035,” said Frances F. Townsend, former White House counterterrorism and national security advisor, and current chair of the American Edge Project’s National Security Advisory Board. “The Atlantic Council’s critical new report shows China is seeking to increase its influence over technology standards setting, and while the United States retains a dominant presence, we must ‘maintain awareness’ of China’s activities. Further, the United States must focus efforts on improving its domestic innovation capabilities to better compete with China and an increasingly aggressive Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that has sent clear signals over its intent to turn China into the global epicenter of technology innovation.”

In researching this report, the GeoTech Center conducted extensive interviews with leading experts in standards-setting, Sino-US relations, and technology policy and compiled a dataset showcasing the demographics of standards organizations’ members.

Key findings from the report include:

I. China has recently released a new strategy for increased engagement with international technology standards-setting bodies in an effort to cement its status as a global economic and technological superpower.

II. However, Chinese representation within standards bodies is far from reaching a disproportionate level, especially in comparison to the country’s economic weight. The United States has a dominant presence in standards bodies, holding at least 50 percent of votes in eleven of the thirty-nine organizations evaluated by this paper. Moreover, such bodies are structurally sound and were able to withstand pressure from individual governments in the past.

III. Reasonable US policy to promote the setting of technically sound, cost-effective, and equitable standards should not focus on pushing out the Chinese or otherwise managing the structure and processes of standards bodies; rather, Washington would do better to support the American technological sector and ensure that new technologies emerging from the United States are of the highest quality, since well-engineered products are the most likely to be selected for global use.

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