Chairman Warner, Vice Chairman Rubio, members of the committee, thank you for the invitation.
China is keenly aware of its gaps and is using every means available to close them
In 2018, a Chinese state-run newspaper identified nearly three dozen crucial technologies that relied on specific imports that make China vulnerable to other countries’ potential sanctions and export controls. In a series of articles, the full list of which is provided below in Appendix A, the authors covered topics including:
- The difficulty with producing rocket engines and aviation landing gear due to limitations in making high-strength steel;
- The challenges of building reliable high-resolution LiDAR (or light detecting and ranging sensors) that are the “eyes” of many unmanned vehicles; and
- Detailed gaps in China’s ability to produce key semiconductor manufacturing equipment components.
These articles expressed the feeling that the United States and other powers could use these and other limitations to “strangle” China at any time.
The Chinese are keenly aware of their strengths and deficits, and are making strides toward achieving technological self-sufficiency. They regularly leverage a wide range of government powers in an attempt to dominate key technology areas — not just the cutting edge.
Understanding who is leading and following in emerging technologies between the United States and China requires evaluating comparative success across several key markers of leadership. These include research-driven knowledge creation, financial investment, human talent, intellectual property ownership, market share in technologies, and international standards and norm setting. Using these measures, it is helpful to understand what China sees as its comparative advantages or weaknesses in emerging technology development.
For example, an article published in January by the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University notes China’s own technological strength has been improving progressively in recent years and it has become an influential science and technology (S&T) power. In artificial intelligence and machine learning, the Chinese consider themselves to be leading in product-driven research and development areas like facial and speech recognition, computer vision, and talent training at scale. In basic research, the United States and China are comparable in terms of scientific research paper publication and citation numbers. Yet the Chinese also know they lag behind the United States in original, groundbreaking research and in universities’ and employers’ ability to attract and retain top AI talent. Further, they view U.S. efforts to coordinate AI technology standards among global democracies as compounding their own problems with internally coordinating standards at different levels of government.
The United States still has a large lead over rapidly-advancing China in AI chips, algorithms, machine learning, and other core technologies; it leads in promoting military AI applications, and it has introduced ML technology in biosynthesis and drug R&D, achieving major breakthroughs. Though the United States relies heavily on foreign chip manufacturing, it maintains an overall technological advantage through its possession of intellectual property and the integration of IP in advanced semiconductor supply chains. Though China’s circuit industry is rapidly developing, it faces redundancies and foreign dependencies that keep it well behind the United States. And the same Peking University study cited above also
notes that the technical strength gap between China and the United States in 5G and other communications technologies is narrow.
Beyond AI, the Chinese are also aware of the places where they maintain leverage over the United States in key parts of global supply chains. A December 2020 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report stated that, in 2019, 57.7 percent of
U.S. imports of malaria diagnostic test kits came from China, as did more than 90 percent of key antibiotics and their derivative imports. As reported in a recent Nature article, the pandemic demonstrated the massive disruptive effects of China’s dominance in bioeconomic supply chains for U.S. research and medical care, including backlogs of medical PPE and laboratory equipment vital to operations like gloves, pipette tips, and bleach for decontamination. Experimental materials including DNA extraction kits and research animals were also interrupted. Labs could not conduct any kind of research during this time, halting or slowing groundbreaking and innovative research.
China gaining advantages in any of these technologies, be it artificial intelligence, semiconductors, genome editing, or quantum technologies, would have implications for global security — and potentially, U.S. intelligence community operations.
The United States has three basic ways to shape its response
The United States needs to prepare now for the long term. As China’s tech ecosystem matures and becomes increasingly innovative, the United States risks being surprised (and falling behind) because we don’t have a comprehensive view of what China and other actors are doing across the technology landscape. I see three basic classes of responses for the United States and its allies that need to be used together to achieve the greatest effect: run faster, slow competitors down, and monitor the entire science and technology landscape more effectively.
First, the U.S. government could help the nation run faster. It could spur on the innovation ecosystem by expanding efforts to buy down risk, investing in innovation incubation, and reducing friction points that might slow U.S.-centric private sector innovation. An increase in funding focused on the transition of research and engineering innovations into American-made products would also yield positive domestic outcomes.
Second, the U.S. government can work with its allies to slow down the pursuing competition and protect critical technology. The United States should work with like-minded countries to maximize the effectiveness of export controls, sanctions and other related measures, as appropriate. However, these measures will not be effective on their own over time because they can be circumvented, require complicated multi-party coordination, create perverse incentives for tech firms to leave the United States, and spur China to innovate around them. Such methods are most useful when employed selectively in combination with run faster and the third option, S&T landscape monitoring.
Third, the United States must improve its monitoring of the science and technology landscape. Doing so is critical to our success in long-term competition with a high-tech peer. Specifically, Congress can support an analytic capability that monitors the S&T landscape and enables rapid adoption of new capabilities that offset Chinese advantages. It also is critical in fast follower situations. China’s rapid rise in science and technology has been facilitated by more than 60,000 open-source collectors and analysts. China’s large-scale S&T analysis capability has enjoyed massive, multi- layered and sustained state support. The resources devoted to these efforts allow China to prioritize technical areas for exploration and help ensure that the country is not surprised by worldwide innovations.
To my knowledge, no part of the U.S. government — including the intelligence community — has developed a scalable countermeasure to the Chinese approach. Instead, the United States relies on private sector parties to watch the threat and opportunity horizon, and has a limited S&T intelligence analysis capability that typically focuses on foreign threats in a handful of areas without comprehensive context. The United States has made no systematic, continuous, and scalable investment into the wholesale survey and monitoring of the worldwide S&T landscape. This analytic gap directly affects national security and economic competitiveness. And it undermines the country’s ability to make informed technology- related decisions.
Analysis capabilities are essential to enable competition with a high-tech peer
CSET and others have proposed options to create this much-needed independent capability that uses unclassified sources to monitor global developments in emerging technologies. In fact, CSET has built a relevant prototype. To be effective, it must sit apart from the intelligence community due to authority and incentive challenges. The U.S. government needs a continuous analysis of the global S&T landscape to support strategic planning and decisions by federal, state, and local authorities in areas such as the following:
- Prioritization of R&D investment and divestment;
- Expert finding, selecting collaborations, and partnerships; and
- Timely insight on the constantly changing targets of unwanted tech transfer.
A well-resourced S&T analysis and monitoring organization with sustained funding:
- Creates an unclassified foundation on top of which more sensitive threat work can be overlaid;
- Functions seamlessly across foreign and domestic technological challenges;
- Assembles a critical mass of resources that are hard to find due to high setup costs, such as technical infrastructure, data resources, expert technical input, and analytic talent; and
- Works to enable innovations to move from research to practice.
We need to embrace this transformative S&T landscape monitoring mission. When used in combination with “run faster” and “slow them down” policy options, it will help maintain U.S. leadership in critical emerging technologies and supply chains — now and into the future.
Thank you, and I look forward to our discussion.