China is America’s greatest geopolitical threat.
Consider Beijing’s efforts to undermine the U.S.-led international order, its export of authoritarianism, mercantilist economic policies, its military threat to Taiwan, and its human rights abuses at home. And key to China’s success in achieving its aims, and key to our stopping them, is the race for global tech supremacy.
In recent years, Washington has rightly put a stronger emphasis on competing with China’s innovation efforts. The CHIPS Act is a key example, as is the Biden administration’s recent denial of exporting cutting-edge U.S. microelectronics tech to China.
But as we look to the future, with the 118th Congress sworn in and ahead of President Biden’s State of the Union address, much more must be done to check China’s growing tech influence and strengthen America’s competitive edge. Importantly, Washington must renew its focus on promoting U.S. innovation and championing our domestic private sector innovators.
China views tech and innovation as critical drivers of its strategy. To become the global tech leader, it is investing trillions in the foundational technologies of the 21st century — artificial intelligence, semiconductors, 5G wireless, quantum information science, biotechnology and green energy — and making great gains. The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence says that China is poised to overtake the United States as the world leader in AI by 2030. A Harvard University report found that China is well ahead of the U.S. in high-tech manufacturing and 5G, and could soon beat the U.S. in quantum computing. China is also investing heavily in advanced weaponry and space exploration.
And consider the implications of Chinese aspirations to control the internet. China’s long history of controlling the internet to censor information was recently highlighted when it hid and underreported COVID-19 deaths in the country. And now, by efforts to control infrastructure and export its own autocratic style of the internet across the globe, China is catalyzing a growing wave of “digital authoritarianism.” This type of closed, censored internet is in direct contrast to that of the United States and our allies and threatens democracy and privacy around the globe.
The political, economic and security implications of China outpacing the United States are profound; if they succeed, the United States may be forced to rely on foreign platforms in areas such as national defense, critical infrastructure and communications technologies. The associated risks would be severe.
That’s why we must take China’s tech and innovation ambitions seriously. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently asserted, “China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it.”
Recognizing this threat, the House of Representatives has wisely established the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. Chaired by Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, the new bipartisan committee will assess the national, economic and technological challenges posed by the CCP in an effort to “expose the CCP’s coordinated, whole-of-society strategy to undermine American leadership and American sovereignty while working on a bipartisan basis … to identify long-overdue, common sense approaches to counter CCP aggression.”
Ensuring that America is building and exporting critical, new technologies — such as microelectronics, AI/machine learning and quantum computing — will allow the United States to remain the global leader in technologies that underpin our economy and national security. It will also promote global access to technology shaped by Western values, which helps spread our democratic values of an open and accessible internet while combating tech developed by autocratic nations.
Technology is one of our greatest shields of national defense and a driver of economic growth and prosperity. But our leadership is not guaranteed, and it will take thoughtful, pro-innovation policies to secure America’s place in the next generation.
The good news is that it can be done. We saw the sizable impact Washington’s bipartisan work and focus on semiconductors made on reshoring our manufacturing capabilities and strengthening our domestic supply chain. But we should not wait for the next crisis to address this competition; we should be investing in the technologies of tomorrow, today.
As Mr. Biden remarked in his 2021 State of the Union address, America is “in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century.” In the time since, the competition and the stakes have only grown.
Now, as Mr. Biden prepares to give his next State of the Union address, the contrast between our two nations could not be clearer. In the face of fierce competition, America must strategically invest in domestic tech innovation to advance groundbreaking research and allow us to lead in emerging technologies. Washington has the opportunity to change the trajectory and put America comfortably in the lead once again. Our country must take it.
• Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. is the 19th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Frances F. Townsend is former White House counterterrorism and homeland security adviser. Michael J. Morell is former deputy director and acting director of the CIA. All serve as National Security Advisory Board members for the American Edge Project.
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