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A critical moment in the battle with China for technological superiority

A critical moment in the battle with China for technological superiority
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It is clear that the single greatest strategic challenge to the United States in this century is to counter an authoritarian and aggressive China, which is determined to supplant the United States as the leading economic and military power, and carve out a privileged sphere of influence in Asia and beyond with bullying and coercion. In doing so, China hopes to establish an alternative to the liberal democratic order that has brought stability to the international system since the end of the Second World War.

This campaign to dominate by all means the future technologies that will define economic and military power, which include quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and advanced communications, would perhaps be most alarming in the strategy of China. This geotechnology competition may determine if the international order of the future reflects the values for democracies or autocracies. The stakes could not be higher.

In the last year, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress conferred with members of Congress and with critical allies to develop a geotechnology strategy for what President Biden has called an “extreme competition” with China. The administration is taking sensible first steps to address imbalances in the relationship, however, many actions remain to be done to harness the key collective efforts of democracies.

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The first virtual summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, in which the United States, Australia, Japan, and India pledged to form a critical and emerging technology working group, and the visits by Secretary of State Antony Blinken with South Korean and Japanese allies prior to the first high level meeting with Chinese officials last week in Alaska are the early indications of such efforts. Indeed, we must marshall our allies as part of this competition as one important lever of our strength.

The administration also made a move with the recent executive order for supply chains, which launched a review of sourcing on key areas such as batteries, semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, and rare earth minerals. The coronavirus revealed vulnerabilities with each of these areas. Automobile manufacturers were slowed by a semiconductor shortage caused in part by supply issues, and the pandemic also exposed our reliance on foreign manufacturers for pharmaceuticals. That important review will inevitably raise difficult issues to answer over this dependence on China.

An often divided Congress is finding broad consensus on the challenge of China, with significant proposals for investments in vital technologies and initiatives to work with allies. The administration could build on the recent actions such as the 2018 reforms to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and the restrictions under the past administration on dual use and critical innovative exports to China, to ensure that hard work and American ingenuity are not stolen to fuel the rise of China.

By working with our allies, we can secure supply chains, develop the rules for data protection, and lead the way in critical technologies. Washington must also counter the unfortunate mercantilist policies by China that levy forced technology transfers and intellectual property from our companies as the price to access the market, along with the terrible “debt diplomacy” Beijing engages in to purchase its influence around the world.

The United States and our allies must do more to align policies for this key technology competition. The administration spoke of a possible summit of democracies which brings together countries beyond the Group of Seven. Such a summit, or a new “Democratic Ten” group of countries, would give the chance to further geotechnology efforts with our allies and to position these countries for success with this important arena. Such a group would also be a major step toward winning the narrative, showing the world that democraties can best deliver prosperity and protect freedom.

Our allies bullied by China and exhausted by a global pandemic fueled by Communist Party distortions seem open to the calls of the administration for a common front. Therein lies an opportunity. The actions of Beijing are unifying opposition to its unchecked behavior to an unprecedented level. Many difficult choices remain but a burgeoning consensus over China, at home and abroad, shows the path ahead for the administration. We must seize this opportunity and fashion the actions and institutions necessary for success in this competition that will define the generation.

Mike Rogers is a former Republican representative Congress who was a chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He is now the David Abshire chair at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Glenn Nye is a former Democratic representative in Congress. He is now chief executive with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.