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Nana de Graaff receives Vidi for research on technological decoupling from China

29 June 2023
Political scientist Nana de Graaff of VU Amsterdam receives a Vidi grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) for her research 'Globalization Unravelling? The Geopolitics of Europe-China Tech Decoupling'.

With this Vidi grant, Nana de Graaff will research the technological decoupling between Europe and China. An example of technological decoupling between Europe and China is the banning of Huawei, a Chinese telecom and network provider, from Europe's 5G network. De Graaff wants to further research the political and geopolitical drivers behind this technological decoupling.

Nana de Graaff is an associate professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at VU Amsterdam. This project brings together many of her research areas: Chinese political and economic elites, the globalisation of Chinese companies and Chinese involvement in Europe; US political and economic elites and US foreign policy and US-China relations.

From her research on the internationalisation of China in relation to Europe and the US, De Graaff is one of the founders of the European knowledge network CHERN (China in Europe Research Network). De Graaff is the chair of this network, aimed at pooling, exchanging, disseminating and generating research on Chinese socio-economic engagements with Europe. "When we started this network, Europe was much more open to cooperation with China. But since then, the US-China relationship has polarised, a development that has also taken place in Europe. Europe wants to maintain the alliance with the US, and sees China alternately as a partner, competitor or systemic rival." The European Commission has adopted a more strategic stance towards China, with Europe wanting to be a trading partner on the one hand, but also guarding its strategic interests on the other.

Decoupling in The Netherlands

Technological decoupling is also a topic of discussion in The Netherlands. For example at Dutch high-tech company ASML, which produces machines that other companies use to make chips and has become a key player in the so-called 'chips war'. De Graaff: "China was an important market for ASML, but partly under pressure from the US, the Dutch government decided to halt some of its exports to China." There are two main reasons for this, De Graaff explains. "Western countries do not want China to use this technology for military purposes, i.e. national security. In addition, China is an economic challenger, and the US wants to limit the technological development of this superpower as much as possible."

Empirical studies on technological decoupling are emerging, but so far mainly from think tanks and policy advice. Scientific knowledge about these lightning-fast developments is lagging behind. "Decades of globalisation and technological developments have led to global integration of economic relationships and the blurring of economic boundaries: you can also call this techno-globalism." Now a counter-movement is taking place, de Graaff explains, techno-nationalism. "Technological developments are increasingly protected within national borders and linked to national interests and security. This threatens to fragment the global economy."

Historical perspective

This research also puts technological decoupling in the historical perspective of previous waves of techno-nationalism. "In the 1970s, the West, led by the United States, faced the Soviet Union; in the 1980s, Japan was the technological challenger. We are researching the differences and similarities between these periods and the current situation."

De Graaff is delighted with this Vidi funding and looks forward to establishing a research group around this important and relevant topic. "I consider myself extremely lucky to have this opportunity. Now I will have the opportunity to develop my own research group on China-Europe in addition to the CHERN research network. Technological decoupling and what in Europe is called 'de-risking' can still go either way, social science research into the underlying drivers and geopolitics is therefore crucial."

A total of 97 leading scientists will receive Vidi funding of up to €800,000 from the NWO. This will allow the laureates to develop an innovative line of research over the next five years and further develop their own research group.