TikTok Spreads American Soft Power as China-US Technological Competition Transforms the Global Media Landscape

China is making strides in 5G technology with giants like Huawei leading the global telecoms industry in shaping the communications of tomorrow, but with the US seeking to ramp up its technological dominance, the media landscape is about to go through a major transformation.

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With the world’s second largest economy investing heavily in technology and innovative startups, China’s digital footprint is growing while the US seeks to dominate the digital landscape. This is leading to profound changes taking place within society as digital infrastructure plays a bigger role in our daily lives and people become more interconnected globally, and at high speed.

Shirley Yu, a Harvard-educated political economist and expert in strategic and economic affairs said this week that “the fundamental competition between the US and China is going to be technological competition,” which will have a big impact on the media landscape and the way in which we live.

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The global media figure, former CGTN news anchor and founder of Business Talk Show Hey China! said that despite China’s economic growth and recent successes including TikTok, it had yet to make its mark culturally around the world in the same way that the US has done so.

“China does not, or has not produced very many strong public voices on the global stage who can communicate effectively in policy, in media, or even in politics, in a sophisticated way, with the rest of the world,” said Yu.

Despite the success of Bytedance’s TikTok, the Hey China! talk show host admitted that it is a crucial moment for the world to give a voice to the change-makers, thought leaders and Gen Z doers, who can tell their untold paradigm changing stories about China to the world, and bring inclusion to the media.

“China has not been able to develop a generation of global media icons, nothing near what the US has accomplished in this regard,” Yu reflected.

However, when asked about the potential banning of TikTok in the U.S., Yu noted that, “If you watch TikTok, TikTok has become ironically the perfect platform to spread American soft power, through the songs, dances and culture. American youth have successfully used a Chinese platform to spread American soft power all over the world.”

But as the technological competition heats up between the two world powers, companies like TikTok and Huawei have been caught up in the geopolitical confrontations, facing boycotts and bans in various countries. However, the technological shift toward 5G and China’s large investments in areas including IoT, AI, smart cities and digital tech means that the rest of the world including the US will be eager to match that effort - changing how we communicate and connect over the long-term.

With China’s GDP expected to grow 2% or more in 2020 despite the economic shock of the pandemic, digital technology is set to play a central role in future growth. Leading American tech giants such as Apple, Google and Facebook are among the companies to watch as the landscape evolves and the two world powers ramp up their investments, fundamentally changing the way we connect and communicate over the coming years.

The question remains whether China and the US will work together on some of the big technological challenges of the future, or in parallel, to shape their global influence.