The Conflicted Superpower: America’s Collaboration with China and India in Global Innovation

  • Published

The Conflicted Superpower: America’s Collaboration with China and India in Global Innovation by Andrew B. Kennedy. Columbia University Press 2018, 264 pp.

Andrew Kennedy delivers an intriguing exposition regarding how the United States globalizes migratory brainpower and associated innovation over the past thirty years in The Conflicted Superpower.  He carefully depicts how students, skilled workers, and research and development practices transfer knowledge capital from other countries to the US and back again through established immigration practices.  The primary focus then examines how those flows shift in response to political maneuvering.  This maneuvering originates from Information and Communications Technology elements of the High-tech Community (HTC). The HTC advocates through labor unions, academic establishments, and corporate structures to develop political support from sponsored politicians to challenge existing immigration practices. Kennedy advances a well-developed researched structure, presents possible hypotheses, and tests various measures throughout each chapter.  The Conflicted Superpower presents excellent resources, thoroughly integrates charts and graphs, and should be a must-read for anyone interested in technical transfers between global market HTC actors. 

It focuses on two primary reasons why global innovation drives immigration policy; first, the positioning of new development as key to national economic growth, and second, the use of innovative technology for military and intelligence community advancement.  Several sectors are identified as the primary HTC movers; academic environments seeking students, corporate firms pursuing development through innovation, political appointees protecting constituents, and finally, labor organizations defending their livelihood against losing certain jobs or contract opportunities through off-shoring.  Kennedy claims the HTC is the primary mover behind immigration policy changes, but he also offers several alternatives including; deliberate state-driven policy, public opinion requirements, or challenges to domestic politics. During each case’s exposition, the conflict occurs when the HTC interacts to either defend or change the status quo while hypothesizing success depends on building strong coalitions with like-minded players.  To test these theories, the book presents three case studies; skilled workers immigrating to the U.S., foreign student visas, and the off-shoring of research and development practices. 

The first case study explores differences between Employment-based visa and the H1B (Temporary work visa) as well as the various number restrictions on those visas which have affected foreign worker patterns. The H1 visa program started during the 1950s and was later split into A and B categories; A for nurses, and B for other skilled workers.  The program allowed employers to file for a visa and migrate skilled workers from the international pool without first testing corresponding domestic markets.  As the book explores the era from 1996 to 2016, Kennedy highlights conflicts between labor union activists who see jobs disappearing, corporations seeking cheaper labor, and politicians supporting constituents.  The chapter finds HTC elements were more successful in combating labor forces than the well-organized civilian movements.  When confronting political challenges for worker visas, the text answers the proposed hypotheses by finding academic institutions were routinely less engaged in affecting outcomes over policy-based immigration debates than those concerned with student visas and development funding.  

The second case study then focuses on foreign students employing F-1 visas to pursue higher education in the U.S.  F-1 visas are exclusively for students pursuing, and enrolled in full-time education.  In 2014, the Department of State granted 644,233 F-1 visas overall with 43 percent going to China and 12 percent to India as the top two applying nationalities (115).  The student-focused debates over allowed immigration numbers waver between national security and academic freedom concerns.  F-1 visas are valid as long as students remain enrolled, while H-1B visas are for three years with one optional renewal.  Universities prefer open applications before seeking visas, while government agencies, especially after 9/11, felt large numbers of foreign citizens could pose significant risks and prefer visa applications be conducted before academic applications. HTC sponsors worked with universities to ensure F-1 numbers remained high over time, which keeps their initial accessions high for later H1B applications.  One key student immigration aspect could be the significantly lower impact these individuals have on society while attending school compared to H-1 visa holders who directly compete for jobs.  Kennedy found no significant challenges to any HTC proposition desiring to raise foreign student immigration during this case and no attempts were reported to lower numbers.

In the final case, the book examines Outward Foreign Direct Investment as an HTC practice to send innovation research facilities outside the US to benefit from lower costs.  However, offshoring practices are commonly perceived by the general population as negative outcomes since the associated skills and labor benefit the overseas operation rather than domestic development.  As a result, the HTC coalitions opposing offshoring contained both labor and academia while the corporate concerns grouped to favor the practice.  Political elements were financed by both sides as well.  Kennedy finds a discrepancy between offshoring for reduced industry costs and those solely focused on research and development.  While identifying the small gap, the text does examine differences between the two.  Most of the chapter describes the political opposition to moving any domestic production offshore between 2006 and the book’s 2016 data closeout dates.  Overall, the three cases lead to three broad conclusions:  innovation is globalizing, US openness to innovation-associated immigration relies on the same organization that conducts innovation, and that opposition to immigration appears from the same component. 

During the studies, the text often reads as if it is a play-by-play of political machinations rather than summarizing how the US collaborates with China and India.  The well-structured thesis helps to underline the often confusing immigration standards for H1B and the F-1 visa but falls somewhat short when considering offshoring propositions.  The book advertises China and India as major US partners for innovation but the characterized activities are driven more by immigration numbers than any particular innovative events or technologies.  Additionally, none of the collaborative actions are developed from the opposite perspective to show how many US students study abroad, whether US workers take jobs in foreign countries or the direct foreign investment in the US.  These corresponding activities would be critical if one truly wants to understand collaborative processes in this area.

The Conflicted Superpower excels at generating a limited viewpoint about collaboration as applied to global innovation.  Kennedy does so by succinctly characterizing how the US--HTC community feels about global innovation from different sectors.  If anything, the author may be creating awareness for a gap in knowledge that other researchers may find an opportunity to explore.  Although the subject matter may be somewhat over constrained to immigration policy for the average reader, I would recommend it to anyone interested in economic exchange, technical transfer, or immigration policy.    

 Lt Col Mark T. Peters, USAF



"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."