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China To Overtake US In Key 21st-Century Tech In 10 Years, Says Harvard Report

author

Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockDec 14 2021, 15:06 UTC
Beijing.

Beijing, the capital of the People's Republic of China, produces more scientific journals than any other city and metropolitan area in the world. Image credit: Travelpixs/Shutterstock.com

China is set to overtake the US in the battle for dominance over key 21st-century technologies. In some of these fields, the US may have already lost the race.

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That’s the conclusion of a new report titled “The Great Tech Rivalry: China vs the US” by four leading academics from Harvard Kennedy School, the public policy school of Harvard University. The authors looked at a number of core technologies that are set to define the 21st century — artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, quantum information science (QIS), semiconductors, biotechnology, and green energy — to see how the US is faring against China in these fields.

In some races — such as 5G and quantum information science — the report finds that China has already established dominance. In other fields, current trajectories suggest it will overtake the US within the next 10 years. 

The report sets the scene by quoting a prediction from the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine made in 1999. The Academy stated that the world was on the precipice of an incredible boom of technology that would soon turn science fiction into reality. Given that the US was the primary driver of technology in the latter half of the 20th century, it was in a strong position to maintain supremacy into the 21st century. 

China, it appears, was massively underestimated. The report cites a 1992 Time Magazine article about the upcoming century that arrogantly argued: “China cannot grow into an industrial giant in the 21st century. Its population is too large and its gross domestic product too small.” By 2010, however, it became apparent that China was much more than a hub for low-cost manufacturing. Under the central leadership of the Chinese state, multinational companies sprung up across the country and started to drive serious competition in the foundational technologies of the 21st century.

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“Wherever the Chinese government can protect companies in its domestic market, support national champions through subsidies and access to government data, and enable corporations to lead, it does. As a result, China’s tech ecosystem may be on par with Silicon Valley by 2025 'in terms of dynamism, innovation, and competitiveness,'" the report reads.

News of China's rise to become a 21st-century superpower is nothing new. In October 2021, a former Pentagon software chief warned that China is blazing towards global dominance because of its focus on technological advancement, especially in the field of AI. A significant milestone was reached in 2018 when China became the world's biggest publisher of scientific articles, overtaking the US. 

The US now has to confront how it plans to navigate a world where it is no longer the sole supreme superpower. While the latest report could be criticized for being alarmist, it concludes with a note of optimism, arguing that it’s not necessarily “game over” for the US just yet. 

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“Recognizing the magnitude of the challenge posed by what Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew predicted would be “the biggest player in the history of the world” is the starting point for crafting an effective and sustainable China policy. We believe it should—and will—lead the United States to mobilize a response proportionate to the challenge,” Graham Allison, lead author of the report, said in an accompanying post.


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