The future wars are already being won by China.
According to a new report from Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Beijing has “become a serious competitor in the foundational technologies of the twenty-first century” and “will overtake the United States in the next decade.” Indeed, China has already won in a number of key technological sectors.
The report, titled “The Great Tech Rivalry: China vs. the United States,” was released last week by Harvard. Former government officials and executives from the technology industry were among those who took part.
Beijing’s gains have been made possible by the autocrats’ single-minded focus and determination.
“Technological innovation has become the main battleground of the global playing field, and competition for tech dominance will grow unprecedentedly fierce,” Chinese President Xi Jinping declared in May 2021.
And China is performing admirably on the battlefield. Beijing has made significant advances in the fields of artificial intelligence, quantum information science, semiconductors, and biotechnology. According to the report, AI is the technology that will “most likely have the greatest impact on economics and security in the future,” and China is a “full-spectrum peer competitor.” Chinese firms, for example, are outpacing American firms in speech technology. Similarly, Beijing is a clear leader in facial recognition technology.
According to the report, “China is laying the groundwork for a generational advantage in AI.” China surpassed the United States in total AI citations in 2020, with a 35% increase from 2019. Beijing has six times more patent publications than the United States in the AI subfield of deep learning, which aims to mimic how humans acquire certain types of knowledge.
Other issues are extremely concerning.
The report warns that “America’s 5G infrastructure rollout is years behind China’s.” Commercial, intelligence, and military applications for 5G are significant. According to Qualcomm’s economic strategy team, 5G will “add an economy the size of India” to the world, which Beijing is expected to dominate. China’s $1.4 trillion New Infrastructure Plan, which Xi has enthusiastically supported, has also prioritized 5G.
As former Google executive Eric Schmidt warns: “China will soon have a 1 gigabit per second national network. With China’s head start, the next generation of technology behemoths — and the products and services they create — will be Chinese rather than European or American.”
Make no mistake about it: China is planning for the future.
China, for example, graduates four times as many STEM bachelor’s students and “is on track to graduate twice as many STEM PhDs by 2025.” While college students in the United States are studying gender studies and critical race theory, Chinese universities are preparing the next generation to dominate the technology sector. But it’s not all bad news. China’s tech sector is far more closed off than that of the United States.
According to the report, American 4G patents continue to “underpin the fundamental building blocks of 5G.” And, as an open society, the United States is more likely to innovate — provided, of course, that it invests the necessary time and effort. Beijing also lacks a diversity of viewpoints.
These are not insignificant disadvantages. Similar flaws prevented the Soviet Union from establishing technological supremacy during the Cold War.
However, the United States is at a crossroads. It must prioritize competition with China while also investing in American-made technology. Winning future wars will necessitate a broad commitment from both the private and public sectors. We’d better get started.