By Henry Jom
An Australian think tank is urging democratic nations to “step up” their game in technological innovation and strategic competition if they are to compete with, catch up, and outdo Beijing.
According to a year-long study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Beijing is currently leading the world in 37 out of 44 technologies. These technologies cover a range of crucial technologies, including defence, space, robotics, energy, the environment, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, advanced materials and key quantum technology.
ASPI’s report also found that the world’s top 10 leading research institutions are based in China and that the communist regime is collectively generating nine times more high-impact research papers than “the second-ranked country.”
“Our dataset reveals a large gap between China and the U.S., as the leading two countries, and everyone else,” the ASPI report states.
The U.S. is currently ranked second to Beijing in the majority of the 44 identified categories.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is leading the world in seven categories—including high-performance computing, quantum computing and vaccines.
Australia is ranked among the top five countries for nine technologies: cyber security, critical minerals extraction and processing, electric batteries, hydrogen and 3D printing.
However, the report found that one-fifth of Beijing’s high-impact papers are being authored by researchers with postgraduate training in a Five-Eyes country—namely the United States, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
“Over the past five years, China generated 48.49 percent of the world’s high-impact research papers into advanced aircraft engines, including hypersonics, and it hosts seven of the world’s top 10 research institutions in this topic area,” the report states.
Beijing is also leading the world in defence and space-related technologies, the think tank found.
ASPI said that Beijing could get a “stranglehold” on the global supply of certain critical technologies if the research becomes commercially available through its manufacturing base.
“Such risks are exacerbated because of the willingness of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to use coercive techniques outside of the global rules-based order to punish governments and businesses, including withholding the supply of critical technologies,” the report states.
“China’s lead is the product of deliberate design and long-term policy planning, as repeatedly outlined by Xi Jinping and his predecessors.”
Xi Jinping’s Plan for Tech Domination
In 2018, the CCP unveiled a “Made in China 2025” plan that sought to achieve self-sufficiency in 10 tech sectors by 2025. However, this was later switched to a new plan called the “China Standards 2035.”
Under these “standards,” the CCP aims to dominate cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, IoT (internet of things), and big data. The CCP also intends to accelerate efforts to develop technical standards, eventually exporting them to the international market.
The U.S. has accused Beijing of undermining fair competition while justifying the theft of foreign technology to serve the national interests of becoming a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse.
In 2021, Beijing surprised U.S. intelligence agencies when the regime tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that travelled around the world, demonstrating its technological capabilities. However, Beijing denied that it tested hypersonic weapons.
Then in September 2022, the Biden Administration passed the U.S. CHIPS Act that would deny Beijing access to advanced semiconductors and chipmaking technologies, thus, escalating the U.S.–China strategic competition.
Following the passing of the Act, the U.S. Department of Commerce released its “Strategy for the CHIPS for America Fund” (pdf)—a $50 billion investment to catalyse long-term growth in the domestic semiconductor industry in support of the U.S. national and economic security.
“Intelligence communities have a pivotal role to play in both informing decision-makers and building capability,” the ASPI report states.
“Governments around the world should work both collaboratively and individually to catch up to China and, more broadly, they must pay greater attention to the world’s centre of technological innovation and strategic competition: the Indo-Pacific.”
What Democratic Nations Can Do
For Western democratic nations to catch up with China, a “strategic critical technology step-up” is required.
ASPI outlined 23 policy recommendations that democratic nations and their allies can act on “collaboratively and individually” to counter an aggressive Beijing.
Recommendations include innovations such as sovereign wealth funds to provide venture capital, technology visas and R&D grants between allies, and revitalising the university sector through specialised scholarships for students and technologists working at the forefront of critical technology research.
“Intelligence communities have a pivotal role to play in both informing decision-makers and building capability. One recommendation we make is that Five-Eyes countries, along with Japan, build an intelligence analytical centre focused on China and technology,” ASPI states.
“While China is in front, it’s important for democracies to take stock of the power of their potential aggregate lead and the collective strengths of regions and groupings (for example, the EU, the Quad and AUKUS, to name just a few examples).
“But such aggregate leads will only be fully realised through far deeper collaboration between partners and allies, greater investment in areas including R&D, talent and commercialisation, and more focused intelligence strategies.
“The costs of catching up will be significant, but the costs of inaction could be far greater,” the authors wrote.