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China is winning the tech war

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 12/17/2021 Sean Durns

China is already winning the wars of the future.

A new report by Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs argues Beijing has "become a serious competitor in the foundational technologies of the 21st century" and "will overtake the U.S. in the next decade." Indeed, in certain key tech sectors, China has already won.

Harvard’s report, titled "The Great Tech Rivalry: China Vs the U.S.," was released last week. Former government officials and executives from the tech industry participated.

Beijing’s gains have been made thanks to the single-minded focus and determination of its autocrats.

In May 2021, Chinese leader Xi Jinping exhorted, "Technological innovation has become the main battleground of the global playing field, and competition for tech dominance will grow unprecedentedly fierce."

And China is doing well on this battlefield. Beijing has made great strides in artificial intelligence, quantum information science, semiconductors, and biotechnology. The report describes AI as the technology that is "most likely to have the greatest impact on economics and security in the future" and warns that China is a "full-spectrum peer competitor." In speech technology, for example, Chinese firms are outpacing American ones. Ditto for facial recognition technology, as Beijing is a clear leader.

The report notes that "China is laying the groundwork for a generational advantage in AI." In 2020 alone, China surpassed the United States for overall AI citations, with a 35% increase from 2019. In the AI subfield of deep learning, meant to imitate how humans gain certain types of knowledge, Beijing has six times more patent publications than the U.S.

Other areas are deeply concerning.

"America’s 5G infrastructure rollout is years behind China’s," the report warns. 5G has significant commercial, intelligence, and military applications. Qualcomm’s economic strategy team has estimated that 5G will "add an economy the size of India" to the world — one that Beijing looks certain to dominate. China’s $1.4 trillion New Infrastructure Plan, enthusiastically backed by Xi, has also prioritized 5G.

As Eric Schmidt, formerly of Google, warns: "China will soon have a national network of 1 gigabit a second. With China’s head start, the next generation of technology giants — and the products and services that they built — are not going to be European or American but Chinese."

Make no mistake: China is preparing for the future.

China, for example, graduates four times as many bachelor’s students with STEM degrees and "is on track to graduate twice as many STEM PhDs by 2025." While U.S. college students are boning up on gender studies and critical race theory, Chinese universities are equipping tomorrow’s generation to dominate the tech sector.

However, it isn’t all bad news. China’s tech sector is far more insular than that of the U.S.

American 4G patents continue to "underpin the fundamental building blocks of 5G," as the report notes. And as an open society, the U.S. is also more prone to innovate — provided, of course, that it invests the time and effort to do so. Beijing also doesn’t benefit from a diversity of views.

These are not insignificant drawbacks. During the Cold War, similar flaws prevented the Soviet Union from establishing technological supremacy.

But the U.S. is at a critical juncture. It must prioritize competition with China and invest in American-manufactured tech. Winning the wars of the future will require a broad commitment from both the private and public sectors. We better start racing.

The writer is a Washington D.C.-based foreign affairs analyst. His views are his own.

 

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Tags: Opinion, Beltway Confidential, Blog Contributors, China, 5G, Technology, Opinion

Original Author: Sean Durns

Original Location: China is winning the tech war

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