A unified approach throughout government agencies, and “cold war” level investments are needed to counter and stay ahead of China in crucial technology competition.
That was the takeaway of an event last Thursday sponsored by the Center for New American Security.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), the keynote speaker, noted that federal agencies don’t currently have a single overall strategy that oversees all technology adoption. He said that as the U.S. “loses ground to China” in fields like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, hypersonics, and 5G, such a plan is becoming increasingly necessary.
“China’s pursuing China-first policy by any means necessary, licit or illicit, and the question for us is whether we’re content to be collateral damage or whether we will offer a compelling alternative and show the world that democracy—and especially American democracy—can meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. I strongly believe we can. But we need a new approach, and we need it quickly.”
Over the last 20 years, China has reportedly quadrupled the number of doctoral degrees awarded in science and engineering, and is establishing factories for electric cars faster than the rest of the globe.
They are beating the U.S. in offering the fast internet to most of their citizens. And they have managed to export their brand of surveillance and control around the world, via monitoring technologies and other systems, said Benet.
“They’ve done it all relying on tools that Stalin could only dream of to entrench their surveillance state, by vacuuming up data about their citizens’ every interest.”
In a general panel discussion, CNAS Defense Innovation Unit Director Michael Brown noted that “federally funded R&D has declined precipitously since the Cold War.”
The U.S. in the past has spent as much as two percent of its GDP on research and development. That has declined over the last 30 years, to as little as .35 percent.
Brown told the gathering:
“We’ve let that decline pretty dramatically, and I’m sure we’d all agree that the foundation that comes from federally sponsored R&D—the long-term horizon, the ability to take risks—really is what promotes tremendous economic prosperity.”
Another issue raised at the meeting was the extent to which China has become embedded in U.S. commerce and its supply chains, with obvious strategic and security ramifications.
CNAS senior fellow and director of the energy commented on the matter:
“We haven’t really had this sort of challenge before where we have a strategic competitor—I guess is what we’re calling it these days—who is so deeply integrated into our economy. And so that raises unique challenges when it comes to an open market system.”
The panelists discussed whether the Department of Commerce should have expanded authorities to ensure economic and supply chain protections against China.