Paul Triolo: A Career Tracking China’s High-Tech Drive

Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics  >  Trustee China Hand

By Shayla Gibson

This month the Trustee Chair welcomes Paul Triolo to our team as a non-resident senior associate. Mr. Triolo brings with him decades of experience focusing on China’s rise as a global power in science, technology, and cyber. Whether when in business, government, or consulting, he has worked on many policy issues, such as cyber security, internet governance, ICT regulation, as well as emerging topics such as 5G deployment, automation, and artificial intelligence.

Recently I asked Paul a few questions about his background and his take on several major issues of the day.

Q: Having a more technical background, what led you to a career in policy?
A: Working in Silicon Valley led to getting a ticket to government work. Having a technical background in EE (electrical engineering) gave me a perspective that policymakers wanted to hear. A lot of government policy issues surround technology, and with the combination of my background in the semiconductor industry, to working in the policy realm, and now back to the private sector, I have benefitted from having an initial understanding of the industry itself, and then how the policy connects and impacts that industry.
There is a need as part of broader strategy and policymaking for people with an understanding of how to navigate and integrate policy issues that impact those sectors. People like that are hard to find, and during my early career, I happened to be able to fill that role.
Q: How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has affected technology policy in China?
A: Not only has it shown the level of global supply chain vulnerability, but the vulnerabilities of globalization. China is the world’s manufacturing center. Take Shanghai for example, Chinese companies that are part of auto and parts manufacturing centers are critical to intermediate supply chains. There was an understanding of the need to diversify supply chains before, but the pandemic has made the policy world at least understand the ramifications of supply chain vulnerabilities.
There are several systems at work here, like a Venn diagram. Each industry works within the policy world, and then with the systems that help the policy get implemented. Economic and industrial policy are notoriously complicated and hard to navigate. Combining that with systems that are not built to sustain long-term strategies to the point where policy will impact change only demonstrates the need for sustained planning and resources dedicated to that planning.
Q: What technology sector should US policymakers pay the most attention to in 2022 and why?
A: Well, of course you have the electric vehicle (EV) industry and associated battery sector, the semiconductor industry, 5G mobile telecommunications, and advanced manufacturing. Getting semiconductor industry policy right should be a major focus of US policymakers, starting of course with passage of the CHIPS Act funding bill and then establishing a new office and process for administering the funding, and working with allies to avoid a subsidy race.
In addition, I think that material inputs such as rare earths and other critical minerals, used across these sectors, are going to be in even higher demand, sparking further geopolitical competition over supply chains and a desire for countries to source more of these materials domestically. For example, the pandemic disrupted the auto industry and demonstrated how interconnected all industries and supply chains are. Even the vulnerability to unexpected freezing weather in Texas demonstrated a need for diversifying semiconductor supply chains and understanding better and where US companies source critical parts such as semiconductors and more arcane things like rare earth magnets. For example, there are dozens of magnets in a Tesla. How do you get those parts? Or for something more mundane, with some 10% of the world’s electricity consumption going just to lowly pumps, the main way to increase efficiency is to use more efficient motors using rare earth magnets. This is a sector that the US should pay attention to, by creating and funding incentives that are sustainable and built for the long term.
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