US Must Take Steps to Counter China’s Rise

The United States must develop strategies to address China’s military and technological rise, witnesses told a House Armed Services subcommittee this week.

William Carter, deputy director and fellow with the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Chinese progress in such critical new technologies as artificial intelligence, electronic warfare, and quantum computing have “transformed” the world economy and security environment and “require a rethink of the way we approach securing our nation.”

China, he said, has been working to overcome US conventional superiority by reaching key technological stages first and looking for ways to exploit weaknesses in the US approach.

It’s developing technologies to counter US military capabilities by exploiting US weaknesses in the information domain and is investing in important new technologies, and they’ve made progress in both areas, he said, at a Tuesday Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee hearing on China’s pursuit of Emerging Technologies.

“China has already demonstrated the ability to significantly disrupt, degrade, and even destroy the infrastructure on which our military depends,” he said.

In addition, he pointed to PLA testing of anti-satellite weapons, expansion of electronic warfare capabilities, and development of some of the world’s most sophisticated offensive cyber capabilities. China also sees AI and quantum technology “as foundational to both economic and military competitiveness” in the long term, becoming an innovator in these areas—and may be ahead of the US in quantum, he said.

“We must develop a national security technology strategy of our own to overcome China’s efforts to undermine our global position,” Carter said.

The hearing came, as Heritage Foundation senior fellow Dean Cheng—speaking for himself, not the foundation—said China has moved increasingly from merely acquiring technology to developing it on its own. He noted that China was first to deploy a quantum communications satellite and has engaged in longer-distance quantum encrypted communications than any other country.

Moreover, he said, Chinese interest in improved information gathering is not just about cyber capabilities, but also such space capabilities as ASATs [antisatellites].

Paul Scharre, director and senior fellow of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told the panel that China’s capacity for executing long-term strategies for technology development should not be underestimated, and its plans to be a global leader in such critical technology areas as AI “should be taken seriously.”

He noted Chinese plans to be the global leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, which it followed with acquisitions of top-tier Silicon Valley AI researchers. China also benefits in translating private-sector AI developments into national security applications “because of its model of military-civil fusion,” he said.

Witnesses advocated a number of steps in the hearing. Scharre said protecting innovations could involve reforms in export controls or in the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the interagency committee that reviews transactions that could result in the control of a US business by foreign parties.

In addition, he said barriers to companies new to working with defense could be eased. He also said while there are “some ad hoc policies” in place for some emerging technologies, there is no overall process in the Defense Department for dealing with new technologies that raise important policy issues.

Cheng told the committee it is critical to understand the competition in place between the US, China, and Russia.

While Americans have been focused on such conflicts as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, those countries do not “pose a technology challenge to us.”

He said he thought that events involving Russia and China “are providing a wake-up call,” but that outside the policy world “there is still this view that at the end of the day China and Russia really are somehow distant threats and laggard competitors rather than in some ways increasingly our peers.”