Strategic competition between the United States and China is not confined to Washington and Beijing. Like the Cold War, this competition between China on the one hand and the United States and its allies and partners on the other is a global one. The West must plan how to out-compete and out-maneuver China around the world, including across what is often labeled the Global South—Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere.  

Washington has been slow to recognize the extent and significance of China’s aggressive overtures to countries across the Global South, which have become key pieces of China’s attempt to thwart Western influence around the world. China offers incentives and inducements to Global South countries to adopt Chinese technologies, with conditions that often run counter to acceptable trading practices and democratic values. 

Project overview

In Global Strategy 2023: Winning the tech race with China—a capstone report arising from the 2022-2023 strategic partnership between the Atlantic Council and Google—we found that the tech space is a critical dimension of competition with China. To date, however, coherent and coordinated tech-centric strategies dealing with China’s expanding influence in the Global South have been missing.  

There are two broad goals to this tech-centric competition. One goal is reactive—to blunt China’s overtures in the Global South. Another approach is proactive—to assist Global South countries to improve their societies and economies using emerging technologies such as generative artificial intelligence and quantum computing.  

As typical strategic competition policies include one goal or the other, an effective strategy would have both approaches in mind. Washington must counter China’s overtures in the Global South while building new tech-based relationships with important actors across the Global South. This proposal combines hard-edged geopolitics with a soft-edged charm offensive centered on helping Global South countries leverage emerging technologies for their development.  

Policymakers should be under no illusion about the complexity and timescale of winning the tech race in the Global South. A successful strategy will require considerable effort over the long run. The Atlantic Council desires to expand this body of work, given its importance and scale, and is interested in finding additional resources to complement the efforts described here.  

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