Many American circles are increasingly concerned about China’s technological progress, and a new report issued by Harvard University indicates that China has advanced technologically in several vital areas and has surpassed the traditional American leadership.
Two months ago, Bill Burns, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) announced that the agency would create two major new “important centers”, one focused on China and the other on advanced technologies.
This action reflects Washington’s belief that China is “the most important geopolitical threat facing the United States in the 21st century,” and that “the main arena for competition and competition between them will be advanced technologies.”
The question Americans should ask is: Can China win the technology race? Hence the new report on “Great Technological Competitiveness” issued by the Belfer Center at Harvard University, to try to answer this question.
The report concluded that China has made such extraordinary strides that it is now a full-fledged competitor to the United States in each of the important foundational technologies of the 21st century, such as artificial intelligence, semiconductors, wireless and quantum information sciences, biotechnology and green energy.
Indeed, China has advanced in some of these areas and has surpassed the United States, while its quest continues to reach leadership in the rest of the areas in which the United States continues to lead.
China’s determination to excel
Chinese President Xi Jinping has reiterated on several occasions that “technological innovation has become the main battlefield in the global arena, and the competition for technological dominance will become ever fiercer.”
To this end, the Chinese president called for “developing the capabilities of the Chinese, reducing dependence on foreign technology, and promoting domestic emerging technologies.”
To this end, the Chinese government’s latest five-year plan sets key performance indicators in the technology sector, deadlines for reaching some results, and holds provincial and local governments responsible for achieving the results, the Harvard University report noted.
The Chinese Communist Party has made no secret of its ambitions. China intends to become the world leader in the technologies that will shape the coming decades.
The party’s 2018 economic reform plan highlighted technological innovation as a way to avoid falling into the default trap as a middle-income country. The party’s initiative known as “Made in China 2025” aims to dominate the technological production of 10 emerging technologies, including 5G networks, artificial intelligence and electric cars.
Eric Schmidt, the former head of Google, notes that “many Americans still have an old vision of China,” and says that “the United States now faces a Chinese economic and military competitor that is aggressively trying to close any technology gap in our favour.”
Late American attention
The US strategic assessments did not pay attention at the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third millennium for the Chinese rise. In 2000, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine presented future estimates for the coming decades in which they largely predicted all the progress and development the world has witnessed.
Those estimates indicated that “the uniquely strong American system drives the creation of new knowledge, and that this system was the main driver of development in the 20th century, and similarly it will be the biggest factor in the developments of the 21st century.” American assessments did not pay attention to the gravity and strength of China’s rise in technology under a strict communist regime.
Then, after the emergence of the features of the Chinese rise, Washington looked to an attempt to integrate Beijing into the existing world order that it leads. At a time when doubts about China’s intentions increased, there was a rare bipartisan consensus in Washington that America’s global supremacy was at risk.
The most important areas of competition
Over the past few years, China has been able to advance in several vital technological areas at such a rapid pace that American observers have been surprised. China has become a serious competitor in the foundational technologies of the 21st century such as artificial intelligence, 5G technology, quantum information science (QIS), semiconductors, biotechnology, and green energy.
Last year, China produced 50% of the world’s computers and mobile phones, while the United States produced only 6%. China sells 4 times the number of electric cars sold in the US, and has 9 times the number of base stations for 5G networks, with network speeds 5 times the speed of the US equivalent.
And in the advanced technology likely to have the greatest impact on the economy and security in the next decade – artificial intelligence – China is ahead of the United States in critical areas.
A report released by the National Security Committee in the spring of 2021 warned that China was poised to overtake the United States as the number one spot in artificial intelligence by 2030.
The Harvard University report adds that China is now clearly ahead of the United States in practical applications of artificial intelligence, including facial recognition, voice recognition and financial technology.
While the United States still enjoys a dominant position in the semiconductor industry, which it has held for nearly half a century, China may soon catch up in two important tracks: semiconductor manufacturing and chip design.
China’s production of semiconductors has exceeded America’s, as its share of global production has now risen to 15%, and was less than 1% in 1990, while the United States’ share decreased from 37% in 1990 to 12% today.
Americans began to pay attention to the reality of the seriousness of Chinese technological competition. Last June, the Senate passed the Innovation and Competition Act with bipartisan support, authorizing $250 billion in investment in science and technology over the next five years.
Recent spending proposals by Congress, such as the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and $1.7 trillion social spending package, have included investments in research and development in areas such as green technologies and energy storage.
While these investments are in high demand, more attention and investment in strategic technologies is required to compete with China.
Unless the United States, the report says, can orchestrate a national response similar to the mobilization that created the technologies that won World War II, China may soon dominate the technologies of the future and the opportunities they will create.