Home / Geopolitics / China’s Emergence as an Innovation Superpower and Its Implications for Global Security

China’s Emergence as an Innovation Superpower and Its Implications for Global Security

Introduction

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.

China has rapidly transformed itself from a manufacturing hub to a global innovation powerhouse, making remarkable strides in various high-tech sectors. The nation has rapidly narrowed the gap with Western counterparts through massive government investments in research and development (R&D) and a growing pool of tech talent.  This meteoric rise in innovation has not only brought economic prosperity but also raised concerns about its potential security implications. As China leverages cutting-edge technologies, it becomes essential to explore how these advancements may pose security threats and reshape the global landscape.

Innovation Index

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), three of China’s science and technology (S&T) clusters have secured positions among the top five in the global S&T clusters list. The clusters include Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai-Suzhou. Wang Wenbin, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, emphasized that this achievement reflects the success of China’s measures to encourage innovation and enhance the ability of regions to innovate, thereby driving economic growth. China now boasts 24 S&T clusters, up from 21 in 2022, making it the country with the largest number of such clusters, as per the WIPO.

The Global Innovation Index (GII) 2023, released on September 20 by the WIPO, highlights China’s consistent improvement in innovation-driven development. In 2022, China’s innovation-driven index reached 336.3, marking a 15.5 percent year-on-year increase. Social research and development investment exceeded 3 trillion yuan ($410.37 billion) for the first time, securing China’s position as the second-largest globally in this regard. Daren Tang, the director-general of WIPO, acknowledged China’s significant contributions to international intellectual property work, underscoring the country’s transformation into a global hub of innovation, creativity, and technology. Wang Wenbin reiterated China’s commitment to international cooperation, openness, and sharing in the realm of innovation, emphasizing the pursuit of an open, fair, just, and non-discriminatory environment for development.

China’s Technological Leap

China’s journey toward becoming an innovation superpower has been driven by its strategic investments in research and development (R&D), a growing pool of talent, and an expanding tech ecosystem.  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.

China’s rapid technological advancement has triggered a comprehensive economic and trade confrontation with the United States, characterized by tariffs, export controls, and a clampdown on alleged intellectual property theft by Chinese scientists. This intensified rivalry was evident during the high-level China-US dialogue in Anchorage, Alaska, where a top Chinese diplomat cautioned that attempts to stifle China would ultimately backfire. In response to the US government’s stringent actions against Chinese tech firms, China’s scientific research community has redoubled its efforts to bridge the technology gap. The US Department of Commerce further escalated tensions by unveiling new export controls in October 2022, specifically targeting China’s advanced semiconductor sector, introducing restrictions on the participation of “US persons” in Chinese chip facility development and the export of equipment and materials crucial for certain flash memory chip production.

President Xi Jinping has underscored the critical role of technology, innovation, and education in China’s development strategy, particularly amidst intensifying competition with the United States. Xi’s address at the 20th party congress in October 2022 emphasized the fundamental importance of education, technology, and talent in supporting China’s modernization efforts. The report highlights technology as the primary productive force, talent as the foremost resource, and innovation as the primary driving force in China’s development. The next five years, marked by a quest to become a technological powerhouse by mid-century, will prioritize greater self-reliance and strength in science and technology, emphasizing the cultivation of a high-quality talent pool to bolster the country’s professional workforce.

From artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing to 5G networks and biotechnology, China has aggressively pursued advancements in critical fields.

Artificial Intelligence (AI): China is a global leader in AI research and development. Chinese companies have developed state-of-the-art AI systems for a variety of applications, including facial recognition, natural language processing, and machine translation. Tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent have led the charge, spearheading AI applications that encompass everything from facial recognition systems used for security to the development of autonomous vehicles that could reshape transportation. Additionally, China’s expertise in natural language processing is fostering advancements in machine translation, chatbots, and voice recognition, which have far-reaching implications for global communication and business.  In 2022, China’s AI startups raised a record US$11.7 billion in funding, more than any other country.

Robotics: China is also a major player in the global robotics market. Chinese companies are developing robots for a variety of applications, including manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics. In 2022, China shipped a record 487,000 industrial robots, more than any other country. China’s AI and robotics innovations are making waves on the global stage. Eric Topol, a scientist from California’s prestigious Scripps Institute, hailed a groundbreaking electronic chip created by Chinese researchers. This remarkable Tianjic chip, integrated into an autonomous bicycle, exhibits the ability to detect and track targets, navigate obstacles, maintain balance, comprehend voice commands, and even make autonomous decisions. Described as a significant breakthrough by Topol, this chip’s simultaneous processing of diverse algorithms and models enables the bicycle to exhibit a level of independent decision-making that’s turning heads.

5G Technology: China’s relentless pursuit of 5G technology dominance has resulted in a rapid and extensive deployment of 5G infrastructure. Key players like Huawei have played pivotal roles in defining and implementing global 5G standards. This technological leap is transforming communication, paving the way for innovations like the Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities, and ultra-fast internet connectivity, positioning China as a pioneer in the telecommunications revolution. The nation’s rapid adoption of 5G technology is also notable, as China stands as the world’s swiftest-growing market for 5G services, highlighting its embrace of cutting-edge telecommunications infrastructure.

China continues to lead the global 5G revolution with remarkable advancements and investments. As of the latest data, China’s total investment in 5G technology has surged beyond 260 billion yuan (approximately US$40.6 billion), resulting in the deployment of a staggering 718,000 5G base stations and an impressive 200 million 5G connections nationwide. Furthermore, there are now an impressive 218 different 5G smartphone models available in the market, with over 90 percent of newly released middle and high-end smartphones (valued at over 2,000 yuan) in China offering 5G support. This robust 5G infrastructure has proven invaluable in various sectors, from healthcare to space exploration, with applications extending to mines, hospitals, harbors, factories, and more. The advent of 5G technology is also set to transform the mobile gaming landscape, ushering in real-time, multiplayer, and immersive experiences thanks to faster speeds, expanded bandwidth, and cutting-edge ultra-low latency capabilities.

Quantum technologies: China has made remarkable strides in the field of quantum computing, achieving the coveted milestone of quantum supremacy. These advancements have opened up new frontiers in cryptography, enabling quantum-safe encryption methods, and offering unparalleled capabilities in simulating complex physical systems and optimizing solutions to intricate problems. China is investing heavily in quantum computing research and development. Chinese companies have developed some of the most powerful quantum computers in the world. In 2022, China’s Zuchongzhi 3 quantum computer became the first quantum computer to achieve quantum supremacy over a classical computer in a real-world application. China’s dedication to quantum computing research has the potential to reshape various industries and redefine the boundaries of computational possibilities.

Its quantum computing researchers recently unveiled plans to develop a 60-qubit superconductivity quantum computing system, boasting an impressive 99.5 percent fidelity, with the ambitious goal of reaching a million-qubit scale in the next decade, achieving a remarkable 99.8 percent fidelity. In another groundbreaking feat, China’s Micius Project achieved a historic milestone by establishing a secure quantum communications link using entangled particles spanning a vast distance of over 1,100 kilometers, further cementing China’s reputation as a frontrunner in quantum technology and its applications, from advanced computing to secure communication protocols.

Biotechnology: Chinese companies have made substantial investments in biotechnology, particularly in genomics and gene editing technologies. These investments hold immense promise for breakthroughs in healthcare and agriculture. China’s efforts in genomics are contributing to a deeper understanding of genetics, with potential applications in personalized medicine, disease prevention, and precision agriculture. As biotechnology continues to evolve, China’s contributions are poised to have a global impact on both human health and food security.

IT: China’s rapid ascent in the realm of information technology poses a notable challenge to the United States’ long-held dominance. While the U.S. has historically excelled in critical IT sectors like servers and databases, China has recognized the necessity of reducing reliance on foreign technology providers. A recent example is the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation Limited (CASIC), which devised a strategy to enhance database performance by 40 percent, aiming to replace Oracle’s database infrastructure. Additionally, collaborative ventures such as the partnership between the Research Methods and Data Science (RMDS) Lab, a prominent U.S.-based data science research organization, and Chinese counterparts like the National Engineering Laboratory of Industrial Big Data Application Technology signify China’s ambitions to leverage its vast industrial market for innovation. Notably, China leads in cutting-edge technologies like facial recognition, smart city management, mobile payment systems, and data analytics, challenging the notion of the U.S.’s irreplaceability in key IT domains.

China’s technological advancements are further underscored by these compelling statistics:

  1. China boasts the world’s most extensive startup ecosystem, housing a staggering 50 million unicorns, exemplifying its dynamic innovation landscape.
  2. China is responsible for over 40% of the planet’s patent filings, reflecting the nation’s commitment to research and innovation.
  3. As the globe’s largest investor in research and development, China allocated an impressive sum of over US$370 billion in 2022 alone, reinforcing its dedication to technological progress.
  4. China holds the coveted title of the leading global manufacturer of wind turbines, solar panels, and lithium-ion batteries, showcasing its dominance in renewable energy and sustainable technology.

China’s Space program

China’s ascent in space exploration is nothing short of remarkable, evident in its impressive achievements and technological strides. Over the past 13 years, China has dispatched ten astronauts into orbit and achieved milestones like launching its maiden moon probe and two space stations, Tiangong 1 and 2. A recent feat involved the successful launch of the Shenzhou XI manned spacecraft with two astronauts embarking on a 30-day mission to the Tiangong II space lab. China’s commitment to space is further demonstrated by its ever-improving satellite launch capabilities, having launched more satellites in 2020 than any other nation, with 36 out of a planned 40 launches. The nation made history with the Chang’e-4 probe’s landing on the far side of the moon in January 2020, and it successfully collected lunar samples through the Chang’e 5 mission in December 2020, marking the first such endeavor in over four decades since the Apollo and Luna missions. China’s ambitions extend to lunar and Martian exploration, and it recently introduced a reusable ‘Space Plane’ into its space arsenal.

Furthermore, Chinese scientists have made pioneering strides in fundamental research. In Wuhan, a team from HUST has meticulously measured the gravitational constant, yielding the most precise result to date. This breakthrough has implications for a deeper understanding of gravity, potential advancements in navigation, mineral exploration, and even the exploration of additional dimensions as posited by Stephen Hawking.

China’s prowess extends to astronomical discoveries as well, with the construction of the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, located in Guizhou province. This telescope has contributed to the discovery of numerous pulsars. Additionally, scientists from institutions like China’s Purple Mountain Observatory are pushing forward with plans for an observatory in Antarctica, set to be a global leader in the field.

China’s space program is characterized by its rapid maturation and multifaceted objectives, encompassing civil, economic, political, and military goals. Key focus areas include satellite communication (SATCOM), intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), satellite navigation (SATNAV), meteorology, as well as manned, unmanned, and interplanetary space exploration. With plans to establish a permanent space station by 2022, China is solidifying its position as a formidable player in the realm of space exploration, with a vision that extends far into the cosmos.

“China Surges Ahead in Global Tech Race, Posing Monopoly Threat in Key Areas: Report”

A recent report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute highlights China’s dominant position in the global technology race, leading in 37 out of 44 tracked technology areas, including electric batteries, hypersonics, and advanced radio-frequency communications such as 5G and 6G. Conversely, the United States maintains leadership in only seven technologies, including vaccines, quantum computing, and space launch systems.

The US currently leads in quantum computing research, but China is closely following by leading in post-quantum cryptography, quantum communications and quantum sensors research, according to the Critical Technology Tracker.

In artificial intelligence, the US is leading in advanced integrated circuit design, language processing and high-performance computing, but China holds a lead on advanced radiofrequency communications like 5G and 6G, among several other areas. China is also outpacing the US in all energy and environment technology research areas and is leading in technologies like drones, autonomous systems and hypersonics.

The report said China’s strides in nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles in 2021 should not have been a surprise to US intelligence agencies “because, according to our data analysis, over the past five years, China generated 48.49% of the world’s high-impact research papers into advanced aircraft engines, including hypersonics. It said the findings were based on “high impact” research in critical and emerging technology fields, focusing on papers that were published in top-tier journals and were highly cited by subsequent research.

The report underscores China’s impressive lead in high-impact research across critical and emerging technology domains, with its research institutions generating nine times more influential papers in some fields compared to the second-ranked country, often the US.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences consistently ranks first or second in these technologies, and a significant portion of their high-impact research comes from researchers with postgraduate training in Five-Eyes countries.

The report warns that China’s deliberate strategy and long-term planning could lead to a monopoly in eight technologies, including nanoscale materials and manufacturing, hydrogen and ammonia for power, and synthetic biology, posing significant challenges for the US and other western countries in the race for technological supremacy.

“The critical technology tracker shows that, for some technologies, all of the world’s top 10 leading research institutions are based in China and are collectively generating nine times more high-impact research papers than the second-ranked country (most often the US).” “In the long term, China’s leading research position means that it has set itself up to excel not just in current technological development in almost all sectors, but in future technologies that don’t yet exist…,” the report says.

ASPI made a total of 23 recommendations in its report, calling for increased investments in areas like research and development, talent development and the production of intelligence strategies, while also advocating for governments to come up with more creative policy ideas and more collaboration between partners and allies.

In one of the recommendations, ASPI urges Five Eyes partners and Japan to build a dedicated China technology collection and analysis center that will “pool resources, maximise information sharing and promote innovation in selected critical technology areas.”

Geopolitical Implications

China’s rapid rise as an innovation superpower has geopolitical implications. It challenges the traditional dominance of Western nations in technology and fosters competition in shaping the global technology landscape.

  1. Data Privacy: The access that Chinese tech firms have to vast amounts of personal data has raised significant concerns over data privacy. With their involvement in various industries, from e-commerce to social media and payment platforms, these companies possess extensive user information. The potential for government surveillance and data breaches has drawn scrutiny, both domestically and internationally, prompting discussions about the need for robust data protection regulations and safeguards.
  2. Cybersecurity: China’s expanding cyber capabilities have raised alarms globally, as concerns mount about state-sponsored cyberattacks and intellectual property theft. Reports of cyber espionage campaigns targeting foreign governments and businesses have added to these worries. Mitigating cybersecurity risks and fostering international cooperation in this domain have become imperative to safeguard sensitive information and critical infrastructure.
  3. Supply Chain Vulnerabilities: China’s position as the world’s manufacturing hub has highlighted vulnerabilities in the global supply chain. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the risks associated with concentrated production and supply chains heavily reliant on Chinese manufacturing. As businesses and governments assess these vulnerabilities, strategies for diversification and resilience in supply chains are being explored to reduce dependency on a single source.
  4. Military dominance: China’s advancements in dual-use technologies, those with both civilian and military applications, have sparked concerns about their potential use in military contexts. Technologies developed for purposes such as satellite communication or artificial intelligence can have military applications, raising questions about the broader implications for regional and global security. China’s technological advancements could give it a significant military advantage over other countries. This could lead to a more assertive Chinese foreign policy and could increase the risk of conflict.
  5. Global Influence: China’s expansive initiatives, notably the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), are instrumental in expanding its global influence. Through investments in critical infrastructure projects worldwide, China gains access to key regions and resources. However, this has also raised concerns about creating dependencies on China and its potential to exert political influence in the countries involved, shaping geopolitical dynamics beyond its borders.

Chinese technology poses major risk – GCHQ Chief

The head of GCHQ, Sir Jeremy Fleming, issued a stark warning about the significant risks posed by Chinese technology to the UK’s security and economic well-being. In a recent lecture, he emphasized that China’s leadership has been methodically working to gain strategic advantages by shaping the global technology landscape. Sir Jeremy highlighted the Chinese Communist Party’s ambitions to manipulate technology, influencing both domestic and international affairs while creating opportunities for surveillance. He cautioned that China’s exportation of technology to other nations could lead to these countries becoming financially beholden and dependent on Beijing, potentially compromising their futures due to hidden costs.

He warned China was seeking to create “client economies and governments” by exporting technology to countries around the world, and said these countries risked “mortgaging the future” by buying in Chinese technology with “hidden costs”.

He pointed to a series of examples including:

  • China’s development of the BeiDou satellite system – a rival to the established GPS network which he said had been built into exports to more than 120 countries. He claimed it could be used to track individuals or combined with plans to knock out other countries’ satellites in the event of a conflict
  • New standards for the internet proposed by China which would embed greater government control
  • Plans for Chinese digital currencies which he suggested were a sign of Beijing seeking to learn lessons from Russia’s experience and insulate itself from the impact of sanctions.

 

Conclusion

China’s emergence as an innovation superpower is a testament to its remarkable progress. However, this transformation raises legitimate security concerns that demand careful consideration. Striking a balance between harnessing the benefits of Chinese innovation and addressing its security implications is crucial for ensuring global stability in an increasingly interconnected and technologically driven world. International cooperation and dialogues on these matters will be essential to navigate the evolving landscape of global security.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202309/1298900.shtml

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-63207771

https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3196164/us-china-tech-rivalry-puts-home-grown-innovation-heart

 

About Rajesh Uppal

Check Also

China’s Growing Military Power Raises Global Concerns: A Look at the Pentagon’s Latest Report

Introduction: The Department of Defense recently released its annual report on “Military and Security Developments …

error: Content is protected !!