China leads the world in 37 out of 44 critical technologies, with Western democracies falling behind in the race for scientific and research breakthroughs, a report by an Australian think tank has found.
China is in a position to become the world’s top technology superpower, with its dominance already spanning defence, space, robotics, energy, the environment, biotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced materials and key quantum technology, according to the report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
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The key areas dominated by China include drones, machine learning, electric batteries, nuclear energy, photovoltaics, quantum sensors and critical minerals extraction, according to the Critical Technology Tracker released on Thursday.
China’s dominance in some fields is so entrenched that all of the world’s top 10 leading research institutions for certain technologies are located in the country, according to ASPI.
In comparison, the United States leads in just seven critical technologies, including space launch systems and quantum computing, according to ASPI, which receives funding from the Australian, United Kingdom and US governments, as well as private sector sources including the defence and tech industries.
The UK and India are among the top five countries in 29 of the 44 technologies, with South Korea and Germany making the top five in 20 and 17 technologies, respectively, the report said.
ASPI said China’s growing prowess in critical technologies, which the think tank credited to long-term policy planning, should be a “wake-up call for democratic nations”.
“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,” ASPI said in a commentary accompanying the report.
“Unchecked, this could shift not just technological development and control but global power and influence to an authoritarian state where the development, testing and application of emerging, critical and military technologies isn’t open and transparent and where it can’t be scrutinised by independent civil society and media.”
The think tank laid out 23 recommendations for Western countries and their partners and allies. They include establishing sovereign wealth funds to fund research and development (R&D), facilitating technology visas, “friend-shoring” and R&D grants between nations, and pursuing new public–private partnerships.
The US and China are locked in a heated competition for power and influence that has spurred moves to decouple their economies. US President Joe Biden’s administration has rolled out a raft of export controls and tax incentives aimed at hobbling China’s tech industry and restoring domestic manufacturing.
On Thursday, the US Department of Commerce added units of China’s genetics company BGI and cloud computing firm Inspur to a trade blacklist for allegedly supporting the Chinese military and facilitating government surveillance.