The United States’ long-standing decentralised, industry-led approach to technology standards development is being challenged by China and may have serious economic consequences.
China’s industrial policies to secure leadership in emerging technologies include a well-resourced, state-led strategic approach to the development of technical standards.
For Beijing, efforts to increase activity and effectiveness in international standards organisations are beginning to bear fruit, notably in the development of 5G network standards, a trend that is likely to continue in artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT).
Accordingly, US-China technology competition is now playing out across multiple standards bodies as an expanded arena of contest, but does not represent a choice between distinct groups of technologies.
While national security considerations have become the main entry point for the wider policy community to engage with technology standards, this overshadows the operational challenges facing technology firms, industry bodies and officials involved in standards development.
A narrower US digital trade agenda and China’s enthusiastic pursuit of new international standards has created a sense of uncertainty across international rule-setting on new technologies.
While competition between the United States and China is likely to continue, policy developments in major emerging markets like India will take on increased importance in shaping international digital activity.
It is in Australia’s economic interests to continue to work with partners and advocate for a balanced and transparent approach to rule-setting in the development of emerging technology and global digital trade.
United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney 2019