China Poses Greatest Threat to US Leadership in Emerging Technologies: Expert

October 18, 2020 Updated: October 18, 2020

WASHINGTON–The White House on Oct. 15 rolled out a new strategy to protect U.S. leadership in emerging technologies that are critical to economic and national security.

The United States is the global leader in critical and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum, but China’s exceptional growth in this space poses the biggest challenge to America’s leading position.

The Chinese regime has dedicated large amounts of human and capital resources to become a global leader in this space, and China’s growth in science and technology raises concerns about its impact on the U.S. economy and workforce in the long-term. It also has implications for U.S. national security.

In the strategy report, the White House identifies 20 technology areas as critical to U.S. national security, including artificial intelligence (AI), energy, quantum information science, communications and networking technologies, semiconductors, and space technologies.

While the report recognizes both China and Russia as strategic competitors, the biggest challenge to maintaining American leadership in the science and technology field “definitely comes from China,” according to Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a U.S. think tank.

“That’s really what the administration is getting at when they’re talking about external challenges to American innovation leadership,” he told the NTD Business show.

Since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China has embarked on unfair trade practices, which include funneling hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies to support its key industries. China also has resorted to various tactics such as industrial espionage, cyber theft, forced joint ventures in exchange for market access, and acquisition of foreign companies to attain sensitive technologies.

Atkinson said that there has been an increased recognition in the United States that the government needs to play an important role in protecting American innovation.

“I think in one way this [White House] plan is very telling, because in the Republican Party, even five years ago, they wouldn’t be talking about competitiveness,” he said.

With the Trump administration, he noted, there has been “a real shift” in the Republican Party, which now advocates for the government’s increased role in research and development (R&D) and growing skilled workforce.

“To me, this is a somewhat of a bellwether. It really signals that Republicans now take competitiveness and China very seriously,” Atkinson said.

The strategy to maintain U.S. leadership in emerging technologies includes substantial investments in R&D, according to the White House plan.

Other priorities include developing a skilled workforce, reducing regulatory barriers, and partnering with like-minded allies. The plan has two pillars: promote the national security innovation base and protect technology advantage.

R&D expenditures are important as it reflects a country’s commitment to growing its capabilities in innovation and technology. The United States led the world in R&D expenditures in 2017, according to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Science and Engineering Indicators 2020 report. However, its global share since 2000 has fallen as R&D spending rose substantially in China.

China has increased its R&D spending by more than 17 percent annually between 2000 and 2017. During the same time frame, U.S. R&D spending growth stood at only 4.3 percent, according to the NSF report.

The Trump administration also has made regulatory reform a centerpiece of its agenda for critical technologies, according to Atkinson.

For example, the administration last year took an important step to streamline the regulatory review process for agricultural biotechnology products in an effort to reduce delays and costs and provide certainty for farmers.

“Before that, it was much harder to put the new technologies into farms,” Atkinson said.

Just recently, the Federal Aviation Administration also streamlined new technology rules around deploying commercial drones for delivering products, he said, adding that these sorts of actions have made it easier to deploy innovation into the marketplace.

Partnering with like-minded countries, which is another priority for the administration, is crucial to ensure that these new technologies are used in ways that underpin American values.

“The CCP is twisting technology, particularly around AI—in ways that do not in any way reflect the way the United States uses these things,” a senior administration official told reporters on Oct. 15. “So when AI is used to imprison ethnic minorities, used to surveil populations, this is not the vision that the U.S. sees for artificial intelligence, and that’s why we’ve partnered with like-minded nations.”

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