In a world where geopolitical power is increasingly linked to technological advancement, the U.S. has long led its rivals. American companies make some of the world’s fastest computers, deadliest jet fighters, and most capable robots. But China’s growing economy—now the world’s second-largest—and through huge government investments in technologies- China is making rapid advancements in many technologies thus narrowing its gap with the western world. The U.S. and China are now competing for technological supremacy in almost every innovation field from artificial intelligence to 5G networks, from big data to the internet of things, and from cloud computing to blockchain technology.
Such progress has spurred US into all-out trade and economic battle with Beijing, encompassing tariffs, export controls, and a crackdown on Chinese scientists allegedly stealing American companies’ secrets. In the opening remarks delivered at the high-level strategic China-US dialogue in Anchorage, Alaska, Chinese top diplomat noted that “history will prove that those who seek to strangle China will suffer in the end.” That response to the US government’s reckless crackdown on Chinese technology companies in the past two years offered a precise summary of Chinese scientific research community’s intensified catch-up efforts in order to break the US’ absolute advantage in crucial technology innovations.
In recent years, however, China has undertaken an impressive effort to claim the mantle of technological leadership, investing hundreds of billions of dollars in robotics, artificial intelligence, microelectronics, green energy, and much more. Former US energy secretary Steven Chu has even observed that China is ahead of America in areas ranging “from wind power to nuclear reactors to high-speed rail”. China is also catching up fast in artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, 5-G broadband technology, and the “Internet of Things.”
High-tech China is inventing the next, new thing in frontier technologies: artificial intelligence, biotech, green energy, robotics and superfast and highly functional mobile communications, according to a recent report published by Forbes. “China is no longer copying from the U.S. Now the reverse is true. Facebook has copied WeChat in private group messaging and followed 15-second video app TikTok. Amazon has imitated Alibaba in e-retailing. Lime has followed China’s original Mobike and Ofo brands in bike-sharing,” said the report.
The country is making technology innovation a major, major priority – has become a leader in quantum research, boldly challenging the USA in the supercomputer arms race, and creating its own successful space programmes. Some of its achievements include a gigantic 500m-aperture spherical telescope, the launch of the world’s first hacker-proof quantum satellite and the development of one of the world’s fastest supercomputer – the new Sunway Tianhe-1A.
China space advances boosting its technology innovation
China is becoming formidable space power, it has sent 10 astronauts into orbit over the last 13 years, launched its first moon probe and two space stations (Tiangong 1 and 2). Most recently, China launched the Shenzhou XI manned spacecraft with two astronauts to the Tiangong II space lab for a 30-day manoeuvre. China Chang’e 5 landed on the moon and return with samples, in first such attempt, officials said.
China is fast becoming a major space power as both its technology and launching frequency of satellites are improving at a rapid rate. China has launched more satellites than any other country in 2020 as of Sept. 30, according to a report by Bryce Space and Technology. China has conducted the greatest number of space launches in 2018 and 2019, and last year (2020) it has already launched 36 space vehicles out of a planned 40.
The country set a milestone in space exploration by landing its Chang’e-4 probe on the far side of the moon in January 2020. On 1st December 2020, China has landed Chang’e 5 Moon lander on the moon and has returned to Earth with the cargo of rock and “soil” it picked up off the Moon. It’s more than 40 years since the American Apollo and Soviet Luna missions brought their samples home. China is also working toward sending astronauts to the Moon and, eventually, Mars. It has also recently launched a re-usable ‘Space Plane’.
In a cave in Wuhan, capital of Central China’s Hubei Province, scientists from HUST have measured the gravitational constant for more than 30 years, and recently obtained the most accurate result ever. Isaac Newton discovered the principles of gravity more than 300 years ago, but the measurement of the gravitational constant had always been inaccurate. “The precise measurement of the gravitational constant is important for deeper understanding of gravity, and the measuring technology could be applied in navigation and the search for mineral deposits. The study might also help us figure out whether the universe has additional dimensions as surmised by Stephen Hawking, which might enable humans to traverse space and time,” Tu Liangcheng, director of HUST’s gravitation center, said.
China has built the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope – in Guizhou province, which has discovered dozens of new pulsars. Scientists at China’s Purple Mountain Observatory and other institutions are pushing forward the construction of an observatory on the inland icecap in Antarctica. “That will definitely be a world leader,” said Shi Shengcai, director of antarctic and radio astronomy at the observatory.
China possesses the most rapidly maturing space program in the world and is using its on-orbit and ground-based assets to support its national civil, economic, political, and military goals and objectives. China has invested in advanced space capabilities, with particular emphasis on satellite communication (SATCOM), intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), satellite navigation (SATNAV), and meteorology, as well as manned, unmanned, and interplanetary space exploration.
Chinese officials have said the country intends to have its own permanent space station completed as soon as 2022, following the launch of the Long March-5B rocket, which carried an experimental unmanned spacecraft with it. China hopes to complete at least 10 missions over the next three years to finish the construction of the new, T-shaped space station, which will have a core module at its centre and lab capsules on each side, according to Xinhua.
AI and Robotics
In an interview with Xinhua, Eric Topol, a scientist at the renowned Scripps Institute in California, called a ground-breaking electronic chip developed by Chinese scientist a “breakthrough.” The Tianjic chip, which was incorporated into a riderless autonomous bicycle, can detect and track targets, avoid obstacles, self-balance, understand voice commands and even make independent decisions as a result of the chip’s simultaneous processing of versatile algorithms and models.
“It’s not the first self-driving bike. But equipped with an AI chip, it may be the nearest to thinking for itself,” said an article published on The New York Times, titled “And Now, a Bicycle Built for None.” Topol said China is also forging new ground in applying AI to clinical practice.
“The Chinese government has made an extensive commitment to support health AI, reflected by billions of dollars of investment and the designation of one of its five national AI labs specifically for clinical applications,” he said.
Chinese quantum computing researchers recently disclosed that a 60-qubit superconductivity quantum computing system with 99.5 percent fidelity could be achieved this year, and in 10 years, the system could evolve into a million-qubit level with a 99.8 percent fidelity.
China created a record-breaking communications link using entangled particles between satellites and an earth station. In the latest of a series of technological firsts attributed to the Micius Project, Chinese scientists have succeeded in establishing a secure link between two ground stations, separated by over 1,100km.
China leads the world in 5G development with huge investment, rich variety, affordable models and wide-range applications, industry officials said at MWC Shanghai 2021, Asia’s biggest telecommunications show. China’s 5G total investment has surpassed 260 billion yuan (US$40.6 billion), constructing 718,000 5G base stations and gaining 200 million 5G connections. There are 218 5G models available on the market and over 90 percent of new middle and high-end smartphones (costing over 2,000 yuan) sold in China support 5G, according to Liu Liehong, vice minister at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The technology has played its part in China’s fight against the pandemic and in space, mines, hospitals, harbors and factories, Liu said at the event’s opening ceremony.
Mobile gaming, an important 5G use case, will soon take advantage of the next generation of connectivity, he said, adding that faster speeds, more bandwidth, and cutting edge ultra-low latency will support real-time, multi-player and immersive gaming experience.
China catching up in IT
The US’ greatest information technology strength lies in its servers and data bases. Almost all the systems of China’s critical sectors – banking, telecommunications, transportation and energy – are hooked on US servers. The booming internet business in China is also built on others’ foundation. It is firmly controlled by the free US MySQL database and Intel central processing unit (CPU).
But the US’ irreplaceability in core areas of key information technologies may not be as secure as the US conceives them to be. Several months ago, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation Limited (CASIC) worked out a plan to replace Oracle’s database with its performance improving 40 percent.
The Research Methods and Data Science (RMDS) Lab, a U.S. leading community-centered data science research organization headquartered in Pasadena, California, has signed strategic cooperation agreement with China’s National Engineering Laboratory of Industrial Big Data Application Technology and the Innovation Center of Industrial Big Data, on joint scientific research, personnel training, resources sharing and other technology solutions.
“China has the world’s largest application market for industrial manufacturing. We are confident and optimistic about the great potential of our cooperation with Chinese partners,” Alex Liu, founder of RMDS Lab and Chief Data Scientist of IBM, told Xinhua. Liu said China leads the world in technologies in such areas as face recognition, smart city management, mobile payment and tagging data.