US intel warns China could dominate AI, gain military edge

Beijing’s ambitions in advanced technologies could give it an upper hand in healthcare and other vital sectors in the United States, the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center said on Friday.

The United States intel warnings include a renewed effort to inform business executives, academics and local and state government officials about the risks of accepting Chinese investment or expertise in key industries [File: Andy Wong/AP]

United States officials issued new warnings Friday about China’s ambitions in artificial intelligence and a range of advanced technologies that could eventually give Beijing a decisive military edge and possible dominance over healthcare and other essential sectors in the US.

The warnings include a renewed effort to inform business executives, academics and local and state government officials about the risks of accepting Chinese investment or expertise in key industries, officials at the National Counterintelligence and Security Center said. While the centre does not intend to tell officials to reject Chinese investment, it will encourage efforts to control intellectual property and implement security measures.

National security agencies under President Joe Biden’s administration are making an aggressive public push against China, which some officials have called the greatest strategic threat to the US. The Biden administration has simultaneously tried to ease some tensions with Beijing that date from the administration of former US President Donald Trump and seek common ground on trade and climate change.

Beijing has repeatedly accused Washington of fearmongering about its intentions and attacked US intelligence for its assessments of China, including allegations that Chinese leaders have withheld critical information about the coronavirus pandemic.

Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has stated its goals to create profitable technologies in robotics and other fields in plans known as “Made in China 2025”. The US Department of Justice in recent years has returned several indictments alleging theft of sensitive US information on behalf of China, including vaccine research and autonomous vehicle technology.

The counterintelligence centre’s acting director, Michael Orlando, told reporters in a rare briefing Thursday that the US “can’t afford to lose” ground to China in several key areas: artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, quantum computing, semiconductors and biotechnology.

Orlando noted that Chinese businesses and academics are beholden to the Chinese Communist Party and are required to serve the party’s interests.

“Although we’ve been saying this for year after year, people are not digesting this,” he said.

Orlando declined to say whether the US should enact tougher restrictions or outright bans on Chinese investment in certain sectors, saying his role was not to suggest policy.

But the counterintelligence centre holds regular briefings with private industry and academia while recognising that industries and universities may still want to seek students, experts and investors from China, Orlando said. He would not name companies with which the centre has met.

The centre’s officer for emerging and disruptive technologies, Edward You, noted the investment of Chinese companies in US and European biotechnology and pharmaceutics.

WuXi Biologics has since 2019 built a vaccine manufacturing facility in Ireland, announced plans for a production facility in Massachusetts in the US and acquired a Bayer plant in Germany. Officials did not disclose any information linking those acquisitions to Beijing’s influence but said they were part of a broader pattern by Chinese medical companies.

Chinese companies have also offered COVID-19 testing kits and genetic testing in the US, meeting federal privacy standards and other regulations, You said. But the data collected by companies with ties to China could ultimately end up in the hands of Beijing, You said.

China already has the greatest access to medical data of any country, You said. With its data collection and its advancements in technology, Beijing could one day be dominant in healthcare and leave the US wholly dependent on China, he said.

“If you’re President Xi,” You said, “that’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Source: AP