AI & Zambia Put Biden’s “No-Conflict Competition” with China to the Test


By: The Editorial Board of SINOTALKS® / On: March 13, 2024

AI & Zambia Put Biden’s “No-Conflict Competition” with China to the Test
Image: Victoria Borodinova, Chess, Chess Board, Chess Club (

In his State of the Union Address, U.S. President Joe Biden asserted that he “want[s] competition with China, not conflict”.  With less than eight months before the next U.S. presidential election, President Biden needs to show that he deserves another presidential term to, among other tasks, solidify the country’s leadership in two critical areas: (1) the development and application of advanced technologies, and (2) the establishment of strong ties with foreign countries that are strategically important to the United States.

Two recent developments, as analyzed below, are putting President Biden’s “no-conflict competition” with China to the test.

China’s “Artificial Intelligence +” Action

On March 5, Chinese Premier LI Qiang presented his first government work report, in which he sets out the central government’s development goals for 2024.  Among various priorities is the launch of the “Artificial Intelligence +” Action to assist with the “innovative development” of China’s digital economy.

Used for the first time in a Chinese government work report, the term “Artificial Intelligence +” is not officially defined but generally considered to mean the in-depth integration of artificial intelligence (“AI”) technology with different industries to promote the innovative development of these industries.

The “Artificial Intelligence +” Action reflects Chinese leaders’ commitment to create “an internationally competitive cluster of digital industries” in the country.  China’s ability to accomplish this goal cannot be underestimated given the strong foundation in AI already established by and within the country.  According to official reports, the scale of China’s core AI industry has reached RMB 500 billion.  More than 4,400 companies operate in the space, with nearly 10,000 digital workshops and smart factories.  In addition, the rapid adoption of generative AI technology by other Chinese industries has led to substantial growth of the Chinese market for generative AI technology and the scale of this market has reached approximately RMB 14.4 trillion.

The promising outlook of China’s development and application of AI is likely to make the Biden Administration step up its measures against China to weaken the Asian superpower’s AI capacity.  In fact, the Biden Administration has undertaken multiple actions to secure the supply of advanced semiconductors to power AI systems used by U.S. industries while attempting to limit the supply of these same semiconductors to industry counterparts in China.  However, these measures have encountered various setbacks.

For example, while, with support from the Japanese government, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (“TSMC”)—the world’s largest chipmaker—has already completed construction of its chip plant in Kumamoto, Japan and announced the building of a second plant in the same city to ensure the stable supply of chips to TSMC’s Japanese clients, TSMC’s plan to build two plants in the U.S. state of Arizona—which are partially funded by the U.S. government—has experienced delays.  These delays are believed to be related to difficult negotiations with the U.S. government in addition to some labor and licensing issues.

Another example concerns ASML Holding N.V. (“ASML”), a leading Dutch manufacturer of chip-making equipment such as the photolithography machines.  In its 2023 annual report, ASML stated that export restrictions imposed by the U.S. and Dutch governments to limit the company’s sale of its machines to Chinese customers have adversely affected its revenue.  No sooner had ASML suggested that further restrictions could harm the company’s long-term development than the Biden Administration reportedly urged the Dutch government to stop ASML from continuing to service and repair chip-making equipment that has been sold by ASML to customers in China.  All these restrictions, together with ASML’s concerns about the inadequate supply of skilled workers in the Netherlands, could solidify the company’s determination to move its operations elsewhere.

“In the face of these setbacks and the need to impress U.S. voters now, in the lead-up to the November election, the Biden Administration may resort to more radical measures.”

In the face of these setbacks and the need to impress U.S. voters now, in the lead-up to the November election, the Biden Administration may resort to more radical measures.  These measures may lead, however, to conflicts with China or even with U.S. allies and companies that have become increasingly skeptical about U.S. demands.

Railway Projects in Zambia

Zambia, Africa’s second-largest copper producer after the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has become a stage for the competition between the United States and China to develop significant railway projects, i.e., the Lobito Atlantic Railway and the Tazara Railway, respectively.  These projects are strategically important to both nations because either railway will facilitate the transportation of Zambia’s valuable mineral resources.

In a post titled Investing in Africa’s Future: U.S. and China Propose to Fund Railway Projects in Zambia, Magdalene Uzoechi, a Nigeria-based member of a public LinkedIn group named SINOTALKS® Global Business & Development Network, expresses her cautious optimism about these railway projects.  In addition, she suggests key factors that Zambia and other African nations should consider when they examine infrastructure projects funded by foreign investors:

As an African, I welcome the news of the United States and China proposing to fund railway projects in Zambia with cautious optimism. […] However, [t]ransparency, accountability, and sustainability should be prioritized to ensure that the projects benefit the Zambian people and contribute to long-term development.

[…] While foreign investment in infrastructure is welcomed, African countries should also prioritize building domestic capacity and fostering intra-African collaboration to drive self-sufficiency and sustainable development.

[emphasis added]

“[…] if the Biden Administration is able to […] drive the southern African nation’s sustainable development, Zambia is likely to support Washington over Beijing in their competition.”

These comments suggest that if the Biden Administration is able to leverage the Lobito Atlantic Railway project to develop additional initiatives to drive the southern African nation’s sustainable development, Zambia is likely to support Washington over Beijing in their competition.  What initiatives could tilt the balance in favor of the United States?

Another post titled Powering the Future: Nigeria’s First Integrated Energy Project Commissioned in Abia State posted by Ms. Uzoechi provides a clue.  She writes:

[…] I am thrilled to learn about the commissioning of Nigeria’s first integrated energy project in Abia State, as reported by ESI Africa. This milestone represents a significant leap forward in Nigeria’s journey towards energy sustainability and economic growth.

[…] the project’s location in Abia State holds promise for local economic development and job creation. The impact of this project will lay bare the importance for decentralized energy solutions to empowering communities and driving socio-economic growth at the grassroots level.

[emphasis added]

If the Biden Administration is committed to helping Zambia establish similar energy project(s) along the Lobito Atlantic Railway, the amount of energy generated will be sufficient to support local business communities, which will then be able to utilize the railway to transport their products.  Seen as a force for driving Zambia’s trade and sustainable development, rather than an opportunistic neo-colonialist power seeking to exploit an African nation’s mineral resources, the Biden Administration will have a better chance of developing strong relations with Zambia as the administration continues to pursue its “no-conflict competition” with China.