The Zhongguangcun(ZGC)Innovation Center has been dubbed a one-stop incubator for the tech start-ups of the American future. Its main facility is in Santa Clara, California, just down the road from the Google and Apple campuses. Its new Boston location is squeezed between two of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions — Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
As well as abundant office space and laboratories, the centre offers another attraction to ambitious entrepreneurs in artificial intelligence, robotics and other technologies: capital via its investment fund. “Our full incubation and business supporting services in the centre will dramatically speed up your start-up growth,” its website declares.
Yet the incubator could also just as easily be ground zero in a 21st-century innovation war between the world’s two largest economies. Behind the Silicon Valley and Boston facilities is Zhongguancun Development Group, a venture capital fund that originated in Beijing’s technology district and is owned by the city’s municipal government. It is at the sharp end of what has become one of the most neuralgic issues in Washington.
While the headlines about the Trump administration’s trade war with Beijing often focus on raw materials such as steel, aluminium and soyabeans, the underlying motivation of the new protectionist mood is American anxiety about China’s rapidly growing technological prowess.
At a time when the US is engaged in a battle for technological pre-eminence with China, the ZGC project is exactly the sort of state-backed Chinese investment that American politicians across the political spectrum view with scepticism.
“China has targeted America’s industries of the future, and President Donald Trump understands better than anyone that if China successfully captures these emerging industries, America will have no economic future,” Peter Navarro, the White House’s director of trade and industrial policy and a leading China hawk, told reporters recently.
Mr Trump’s most immediate fight has taken the form of US tariffs on $34billion in imports from China that are due to take effect on Friday as part of a squeeze intended to end what the US says has been years of state-endorsed Chinese intellectual property theft. But it is also part of a broader battle against what the White House has labelled China’s “economic aggression”.