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Navigating the geopolitical shifts and tech policy implications for companies in Asia

Kaize ZHU

The evolving relationship between the US and China is impacting international partnerships and technology policies in Asia. The ongoing trade conflict between the US and China has shifted Asia’s tech landscape for Western tech conglomerates, challenging the once seamless sight of opportunities they had found in Asia. The advent of tariffs and the progression toward economic and technological decoupling have transcended traditional economic measures.

Tech and sovereignty are now intertwined, with geopolitics dictating tech policy as much as market forces. This shift has resulted in a profound reconfiguration of the tech sector, significantly affecting Western tech firms’ strategy and operational approach.

Reciprocal tariffs fuel decoupling, marking a stark shift from globalized trade to regional blocs with heightened digital autonomy. This move away from globalization prioritizes strategic regional interests and digital sovereignty, defining a new era for Asia’s tech landscape.

The Dichotomy of Digital Trade Agreements
At the heart of this transformation lies the distinct and competing digital trade agreements that now define Asia’s tech policy environment: the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The CPTPP, with its open digital trade policies, promotes cross-border data flows, reflecting a commitment to reducing digital trade barriers. This contrasts sharply with the RCEP, which leans towards a more protectionist stance, granting member states the liberty to impose data localization measures as they see fit, thus echoing China’s influence and approach to digital governance.

For Western tech firms, these agreements necessitate a reconfiguration of business strategies to comply with the divergent regulatory frameworks. This situation demands an acute understanding of the individual policies and a dynamic strategic approach.

Companies like Google and Meta must now reconcile the balancing of the goals of global reach with the need to comply with diverse regulations. The adaptation involves complex considerations ranging from data storage solutions that respect local laws to the development of digital products that align with divergent trade agreements.

Geopolitical and Technological 5G Deployment Game
The rollout of 5G has become a battleground for technological supremacy between the U.S. and China. The U.S.’s explicit warnings against the use of Chinese 5G technologies, such as those provided by Huawei, have compelled Western companies to navigate a fraught technological landscape.

In Asia, where the balance of geopolitical power plays a significant role in determining tech alliances, companies must judiciously choose their 5G partners. Aligning with U.S. preferences can mean forgoing the competitive advantages offered by Chinese technology, while embracing Chinese 5G solutions may result in geopolitical backlash and potential exclusion from partnerships with U.S.-aligned nations.

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The strategic implications for Western tech companies are profound. They must assess the technical merits of their 5G infrastructure choices and the geopolitical statements these choices make. In countries with substantial U.S. influence, firms may opt for non-Chinese 5G solutions.

In contrast, Chinese technology may be more prevalent in nations where Chinese influence is more accepted or neutrality is preferred. The decision matrix for Western tech firms thus expands beyond cost and capability to encompass geopolitical strategy and the potential for future policy shifts.

Data Privacy Battleground
Rising tensions between nations are influencing how each Asian country approaches data privacy regulations. Countries across the region are increasingly enacting robust data protection regulations, driven by multiple factors, including consumer privacy concerns, national security imperatives, and the desire to assert digital autonomy in the face of global pressures.

These regulations are not static; they are sensitive to the geopolitical climate, particularly the strategic positions of the U.S. and China in the ongoing trade and tech wars.

Navigating data privacy in Asia is tricky for Western tech companies. Each country has its rules, shaped by its unique political stance and regulatory approach. To navigate this fragmented landscape, firms must ensure compliance with a diverse array of data privacy laws and remain agile enough to adapt to policy changes.

This demands a sophisticated, multi-faceted approach to data governance that can swiftly align with new regulations as they emerge, often as direct consequences of geopolitical developments.

Following data privacy rules in Asia is like a constant balancing act for Western tech companies. Just playing by the current rules isn’t enough. They need a smart plan to predict new laws as countries’ political relationships change.

This strategy must integrate a fine understanding of local markets with a high-level view of international data flows, recognizing that data is not just a commodity but a geopolitical asset in Asia’s tech policy development.

The companies must adopt a strategy of resilience and adaptability, balancing compliance with strategic foresight. This necessitates diversifying their supply chains by establishing relationships with suppliers in politically stable regions less affected by U.S.-China tensions and investing in technologies that enhance supply chain visibility and flexibility.

Developing robust regulatory compliance strategies is also crucial, which involves setting up dedicated teams to interpret and respond rapidly to the varying tech policies across Asian jurisdictions, including new data protection laws and digital trade regulations.

Engaging in policy advocacy and contributing to the development of regulations that support a thriving digital ecosystem is also vital. Forming strategic partnerships within the region can provide valuable insights into the regional tech landscape, fostering a collaborative approach to policy challenges and offering insulation against policy fluctuations.

Understanding the political landscape is crucial for Western tech companies’ success in Asia. Recognizing and planning for these risks is essential. Firms that proactively adapt to the evolving policy landscape can protect their operations and uncover new growth and innovation opportunities.

In this dynamic environment, the companies poised to lead in Asia’s tech sector actively engage with policymakers, contribute to constructive tech regulation dialogues, and innovate within the framework of new policies, transforming challenges into opportunities.

*The author is a policy analyst with global expertise who previously consulted for the International Labor Organization. Drawing on his rich experience in international policy and development, he held positions at the Development Research Center of China, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Tsinghua University’s Center for Strategic and Security Studies, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. Currently pursuing a Master’s at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, his insights have been published in The Diplomat, Geopolitical Monitor, Nikkei Asia, and HK01.

**The opinions in this article are the author’s own and may not represent the views of Global News Pakistan. The organization does not endorse or assume responsibility for the content.