High-level trade talks last week between the U.S. and China grabbed headlines around the world, but in many ways they were beside the point. In the years ahead, tariffs and industrial policy -- the main focus of the talks -- will probably matter less in the growing competition between the two countries, while another, much quieter initiative will matter more. As China boosts overseas investment through its Belt and Road infrastructure program, it is increasingly dictating not just the terms of financing but also a broader set of technological applications. In doing so, it is altering the global competitive landscape by defining and exporting technical standards for everything from artificial intelligence to hydropower. This push into global standards-setting has gone largely unnoticed. That's partly because it's boring: Even broaching the topic will make investors' eyes glaze over, and few Western governments have given it much thought. But it's also partly by design. The process ha...

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