Tech Cold War and IB Research

Special Issue Editors
Rosalie L. Tung (Simon Fraser University, Canada, [log in to unmask])
Ivo Zander (Uppsala University, Sweden,
[log in to unmask])
Tony Fang (Stockholm University, Sweden,
[log in to unmask])

Deadline for submission: September 1, 2021


Nations that master technology master the future. We stand on the precipice of an unprecedented new cold war, one that centers around domination of technology and innovation or the Tech Cold War. It erupted between the world’s two largest economies, namely, the United States and China, and will undoubtedly involve and affect a large number of countries around the globe.

From its status as “workshop of the world” after China first opened up to the world in 1978, the country has made astounding progress in science and technology. In 2018, China had “the highest concentration of researchers, the highest number of patent applications submitted, and the number of scientific and technical publications is well ahead of the US” (Gray, 2018). In the following year, China made the world’s first landing on the far side of the moon.

China’s ambitions in advancing its technological and innovation capabilities are shown in its “Made in China 2025” blueprint, which targets key sectors such as new information technology, numerical control tools and robotics, aerospace equipment, ocean engineering equipment and high-tech ships, energy saving and new energy vehicles, power equipment, new materials, and biological medicine and medical devices (China Daily, 2015). Many of these sectors were hitherto the domains of advanced industrialized countries, particularly the United States. China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative is a further sign of China’s growing global ambition and influence. Some in the United States, particularly under the current Trump administration, view China’s ascendancy as a zero-sum game and alleged that China’s rise was possible only through intellectual property theft and espionage through non-traditional sources, primarily via Chinese and non-Chinese nationals who undertake research and/or pursue higher education in the STEM disciplines (Redden, 2019).

In June 2018, under the pretext of huge trade surplus in China’s favor, alleged technology theft, and citing national security threat, the United States initiated a trade war against China, imposing 25% taxes on $250 billion worth of imported Chinese goods and threatening to further raise the tariffs to 30% which covers almost everything China exports to the United States. China responded by raising tariffs on $110 billion worth of American imports, particularly targeting agricultural products. Subsequently, Trump signed an executive order to bar US firms from using telecom equipment from suppliers deemed as national security threats and banned Huawei (the largest telecom company in the world and a leader in 5G) whose access to Android updates and Google services was blocked. In response, China warned that it would announce a countering list of “unreliable entities”. Hence, the Tech Cold War broke out.

Many in the know are of the opinion that the “new cold war is permanent” (Kaplan, 2019). The conflict between the United States and China will continue because it is about the fundamentally political contest between those who favor repressive systems and those who favor free societies (e.g., Spalding, 2019). Kiron Skinner, Head of Policy Planning at the US State Department, has gone so far as to say that the rising tensions with China represent a “fight (with) a different civilization” and noted that “it’s the first time that we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian” (Pastreich, 2019), thereby bringing cultural and racial dimensions to the debate.

The current Tech Cold War between the world’s two largest economies is perhaps best viewed in the context of the “Thucydides’ Trap” (Allison, 2017), which refers to the inevitability of war/conflict between the ruling power (Sparta) and the rising power (Athens) in the 5th Century BC. Viewed in the context of the “Thucydides’ Trap”, the Tech Cold War extends beyond mere technology into the realms of political ideology, social system, and culture. To borrow Huntington’s (1993) terms, should the current US-China contest be viewed in the context of a “clash of civilizations”, “the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural” (p. 22). Couched in this context, even if deals concerning trade and intellectual property rights were to be concluded, the underlying tensions between the United States and China will persist and will have widespread implications in virtually all aspects of international business as well as societal functioning. These tensions are even evident in the current Covid-19 pandemic crisis.

Topics and scope

The looming Tech Cold War is unprecedented in human history and it has deep-seated geopolitical, economic, and cultural dimensions. Submissions to this Special Issue should examine topics that arise from and/or are related to the US-China Tech Cold War.

Theoretical or empirical papers are expected to address but are not limited to the following main themes:

1, Revisiting assumptions and IB theories in the light of Tech Cold War

Most IB theories have so far been based primarily on the assumption of peace, cooperation, and competition with relatively clear or transparent rules to be followed, rather than the worst-case scenario of a “fight to the finish” mentality. The bulk of IB literature to date has been predicated on free market economic principles that are focused on global value chains, global strategy, global sourcing, open innovation, reverse innovation, international HRM, management of technology, innovation and knowledge, information and digital business, and the sharing economy. None of these streams of research has ruminated over the prospects and consequences of increasingly antagonistic players in the world economy and emergent Tech Cold War. With the scenario of decoupling of the US and Chinese economies and their possible devolution into two distinct spheres, do MNEs have to develop different international supply chain networks and technology systems including digital platforms and ecosystems in order to compete effectively? Would events such as the US ban on Huawei mean the splitting of the world into two or several Internets and the end of global tech? If pressed to take sides, how would MNEs of other national origin react? Are we on the way to moving from the global war for talent to the global war against talent?


2, Geopolitics, political institutions and political behavior in IB in the age of Tech Cold War

Geopolitics influence international business by casting them in the contexts of economic and national security considerations and technological dominance. Since the end of the Second World War, the political dimension in IB theory and practice has been characterized by confrontation, accommodation, and competition (Boddewyn, 2016). While the importance of institutions has been widely recognized in the IB literature, the role of political institutions and political behavior have garnered less but increasing attention in the recent decades. In light of the contemporary developments in the world economy, there is an obvious need to revisit the political aspects of IB, including IB-government relations (IBGR), as predicted by Boddewyn (2016), and to link such relations to the practices and strategies of today’s MNEs. Indeed, firms may need what Chipman (2016) called “a foreign policy”. The Tech Cold War draws attention to the limits to corporate globalization and the re-emerging importance of nationality, given the impact of geopolitics including government administrative orders aimed at corporations. For example, the massive internationalization of Chinese firms meet with negative media coverage in Western countries (Fang & Chimenson, 2017). It needs to be investigated if and to what extent MNEs headquartered in a sovereign state can and should cooperate with their own government authorities in combating national security threats and how much they can lobby against it. There is also a need for engaging in an in-depth debate on and comparison between the Western vs. Chinese or other models of governance and innovation and their respective intersection with and impact on MNEs. Does the emerging Tech Cold War signal a return to the period of “confrontation” (1945-1980), but with new players and new characteristics, and in which ways does it affect corporate globalization?


3, Improving IB research on EM MNEs with inspiration from Tech Cold War

Recent years have witnessed a growing number of studies on the unique global expansion by emerging market multinationals (EM MNEs). The “springboard” theory (Luo & Tung, 2018) posits that EM MNEs can rapidly transform themselves from latecomers to global players. The biggest hurdles for springboard EM MNEs, such as politically motivated boycotts, embargos, and sanctions by host nation states, have yet to be investigated. Indeed, extremely negative external conditions, such as political, technological and financial sanctions, can in unexpected ways influence the ability of countries and firms from emerging markets to catch up in terms of innovation capabilities. A recent report shows a generally negative development of innovative industries in Russia as a consequence of the Western sanctions on the country. In contrast, despite the Western technology embargo, China’s aerospace sector has emerged as China’s probably most technologically innovative industry, as evidenced by China’s landing on the far side of the moon. In which ways have political forces changed the preconditions and strategies for the catching up of EM MNEs? Under what circumstances can extreme boycotts, embargos, and sanctions generate unexpected innovation? There are furthermore good reasons to assume a strategic and in parts government-supported approach to the international assimilation of advanced technology among Chinese and other EM MNEs. Yet, there is surprisingly little knowledge of the extent to which these companies have approached the global integration and management of their emerging foreign technological capabilities, and the degree to which the results of foreign research and development (R&D) are making their way to the home country units. Conversely, the long-term development of foreign R&D investments in countries such as China and India, particularly in view of an ongoing Tech Cold War and potential intra-corporate frictions (Blomkvist, Kappen, & Zander, 2012) is yet to be considered in greater detail. What characterizes the management of foreign R&D in EM MNEs? How does the Tech Cold War, political institutions and governments affect the global technology strategies of both EM and advanced MNEs?


4, Yin Yang thinking in IB research in the context of Tech Cold War

Trump and Xi, the state leaders of the two “feuding” super powers, profess their “friendship” with each other by calling each other “friend” while engaging in cutthroat moves and countermoves.  While this may be seen as sheer diplomacy, such a paradoxical diplomatic gesture may have some grains of sincerity in an extremely complex reality. We are living in an increasingly paradoxical world: we are both global and local, both connected and separated, both market-driven and government-driven, and both competing and cooperating. The Yin Yang perspective a holistic, dynamic, and paradoxical philosophy, epistemology, and worldview (Fang, 2012; Li, 2016; Schad, Lewis, Raisch, & Smith, 2016) can inspire us to understand the impact of the Tech Cold War in various streams of IB research. For example, it is interesting to revisit the conceptualization of culture in today’s society that is both open and closed. The rise of China and the cultural chasm that continues to exist between that country and much of the Western world draws attention to the urgency of using alternative lenses to understand these differences. The Yin Yang thinking can help capture the paradoxical and dialectical nature of globalization and the essence of the crises and possibilities associated with for example co-opetition strategies in global value/supply chains.


Deadline, submission process, and workshop

The submission deadline is September 1, 2021. Manuscripts should follow the IBR guidelines ( and should be submitted between August 1 – September 1, 2021. All submissions will go through the IBR regular double-blind review process and follow the standard norms and processes. To help authors develop and improve their papers, we will organize a workshop in the beginning of 2022. We aim to publish this special issue in 2022. For more information about this Call for Papers, please contact the Special Issue Editors Rosalie L. Tung ([log in to unmask]), Ivo Zander ([log in to unmask]) and Tony Fang ([log in to unmask]).



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Blomkvist, K., Kappen, P., & Zander, I. (2012). Superstar subsidiaries of the multinational corporation: In search of origins and drivers. In: M. Andersson, C. Karlsson, B. Johansson & H. Lööf (Eds.), Innovation and growth: From R&D strategies of innovating firms to economy-wide technological change (pp. 57–87). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Chipman, J. (2016). Why your company needs a foreign policy. Harvard Business Review, 94(9), 36–43.

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Fang, T., & Chimenson, D. (2017). The internationalization of Chinese firm and negative media coverage: The case of Geely’s acquisition of Volvo Cars. Thunderbird International Business Review, 59(4), 483–502.

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Gray, A. (2018). China is among the 20 most innovative economies for the first time. World Economic Forum, July 17. [Accessed March 19, 2020].

Kaplan, R. D. (2019). A new cold war has begun: The United States and China will be locked in a contest for decades. But Washington can win if it stays more patient than Beijing. Foreign Policy, January 7. [Accessed March 19, 2020].

Li, P. P. (2016). Global implications of the indigenous epistemological system from the East: how to apply Yin-Yang balancing to paradox management. Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, 23(1), 42–77.

Luo, Y., & Tung, R. L. (2018). A general theory of springboard MNEs. Journal of International Business Studies, 49(2), 129–152.

Pastreich, E. (2019). America’s clash of civilizations runs up against China’s dialogue of Civilizations: Two speeches and two very different approaches to the world. May 28. [Accessed March 19, 2020].

Redden, E. (2019). China issues warning to U.S.-bound students. China's Ministry of Education warns students of the risk of visa problems if they come to the U.S.. June 4. [Accessed March 19, 2020].

Schad, J., Lewis, M. W., Raisch, S., & Smith, W. K. (2016). Paradox research in management science: Looking back to move forward. Academy of Management Annals, 10(1), 5–64.

Spalding, R. (2019). China’s strategy against Trump and America: Trade War, Huawei, 5G — Gen. Robert Spalding, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, in American thought leaders. [Accessed March 19, 2020].


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