In 2014 Chinese President Xi Jinping told an audience at a tech company that the Chinese people must “rely on ourselves.” The Trump administration seems determined to prove Xi right.
In China, the concept of “self-reliance,” or ziligengsheng, traces its roots back to the civil war, when Mao Zedong’s communist guerrillas found themselves isolated and facing annihilation at the hands of the U.S.-backed nationalist forces. According to Communist Party lore, the communists lived off the land and decentralized the production of economic and military goods as they rebuilt their forces and marshaled their strength. When, in 2014, Xi revived the concept as a call to reduce China’s dependence on foreign technology, the Mao-era slogan seemed an awkward fit for the age of global supply chains.
But China has a long tradition of defying international embargoes. During the Cold War, China succeeded in developing an atomic bomb even after the Soviet Union had cut off its technical support. Throughout the 1990s, China developed sophisticated satellites and rockets despite comprehensive U.S. sanctions on space-related technologies. In 2015, when the Obama administration prevented Intel from selling processors to China for its latest supercomputer, Chinese researchers quickly developed a local replacement. Less than a year and a half later, China unveiled TaihuLight, then the world’s fastest supercomputer, which ran entirely on Chinese-made processors.
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