There is a clear consensus among defense and intelligence officials across the globe that China has moved from being a competitor to the West to a threat not only to the U.S. but the entire liberal democratic world. One aspect of this growing threat is China’s effort to dominate so-called advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, 5/6G communications, extended reality, and cybersecurity. The ability to compete with and beat China in the development and deployment of advanced technologies is vital to this nation’s economic and national security.
Why, then, would the U.S. Congress be pursuing antitrust legislation that will limit the ability of U.S. high-tech companies to compete with China? This misguided legislation will simultaneously enhance China’s ability to threaten the West and weaken the United States.
In a series of recent public statements, Western military and security officials have sounded the alarm on the growing threat posed by China. Beijing is building a formidable military and is using its growing naval and air power to threaten its neighbors, particularly Taiwan. During a trip to Southeast Asia, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley observed that the Chinese military was expanding its activities in the region and acting in an increasingly belligerent manner. In his words, “The message is the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, have become significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region.”
Indeed, the Chinese military is investing in an array of advanced technologies, including long-range, precision guided ballistic and cruise missiles, hypersonic platforms, drones, directed energy weapons, AI-driven ISR and targeting, and cyberwarfare. The quantitative and qualitative growth of the Chinese military has led some observers to conclude that the U.S. and its allies could lose a future conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific.
But the threat from China is much broader than in military matters alone. Recently, the heads of the U.K. MI6 and the U.S. FBI issued an unprecedented joint statement warning of the threat China poses to both countries’ domestic security. China is engaged in an unprecedented espionage campaign to acquire economic, military, academic, and political intelligence. Chinese major private telecom companies have been banned in the U.S. due to their ties to that country’s military. This month, the FBI reported that Chinese telecom equipment previously deployed on cell towers in the Midwest could disrupt the communications of U.S. strategic nuclear forces.
Beijing’s military buildup and espionage activities are but two elements of a multifaceted strategy that seeks to enhance its advantages vis-à-vis the U.S. while simultaneously weakening this country’s ability to compete effectively in these same areas. The central element in China’s strategy is to become the world’s dominant digital technology superpower. NATO published a report in 2019 warning that China has embarked on a centrally directed campaign to achieve superiority in critical advanced technologies by 2049.
To achieve this goal, China is investing in a set of critical digital technologies including AI, quantum computing, 5/6G networking, extended reality, cloud data storage, microelectronics, and cyber capabilities. It has designated and is supporting a series of so-called national champions that not only are investing in the development of advanced technologies but seeking to use the economic leverage provided by the Chinese government to dominate international markets.
The technologies viewed by the Chinese government as critical to its future geostrategic position are the same ones U.S. defense and intelligence organizations have identified as being critical to this country’s national security. The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) are increasingly focused on a set of critical digital technologies that are at the heart of future U.S. military and intelligence dominance.
According to a recent study by my institute, should China dominate the development and deployment of these advanced technologies, it could gain a decisive advantage economically, militarily, and politically. China also could create a global surveillance state and undermine Western political institutions, political processes, and social values. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned of the danger to the democratic world posed by China’s effort to achieve global technological dominance: “Beijing wants to put itself at the center of global innovation and manufacturing, increase other countries’ technological dependence, and then use that dependence to impose its foreign policy preferences.”
The ability of the U.S. to compete with China in advanced digital technologies rests to a degree on the shoulders of a handful of large private companies. Firms such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Meta, and Google have been not only essential to the rise of the current global digital economy, but are leaders in creating new capabilities in AI, advanced networking, cloud computing, extended reality, quantum sciences, and cybersecurity. The U.S. military and intelligence communities are dependent on these companies and others in the private sector for the dual-use products and services needed to protect U.S. national security.
To some extent, the U.S. Congress recognizes the seriousness of technology competition with China, as exemplified by the CHIPS Act to support U.S. semiconductor manufacturing. But at the same time, it is considering legislation that would undermine the competitiveness of a number of this country’s most innovative and successful high-tech companies and give an extraordinary advantage to their Chinese competitors.
Several new antitrust bills currently before Congress, most notably the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, would unfairly and unnecessarily target a handful of large U.S. technology companies. These are the same companies on which DoD and ODNI are relying to develop the advanced digital technologies critical to U.S. national security. These companies also are at the forefront of U.S. economic competitiveness and job creation.
The proposed bills not only would negatively impact the ability of large companies to innovate, but they would also undermine the overall U.S. technology ecosystem. Should they become law, there will be fewer tech startups, fewer new tech products, and fewer high paying tech jobs in the U.S. Meanwhile, Chinese tech companies would gain greater access to American data and markets. Consequently, the China threat would grow, and the economic and national security of this nation would be weakened. If Congress really wants to address the threat posed by China, it will give due consideration to the national security impacts of proposed antitrust legislation.
Author Biography and Expertise: Dr. Daniel Goure, a 1945 Contributing Editor, is Senior Vice President with the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. He is involved in a wide range of issues as part of the institute’s national security program. Dr. Goure has held senior positions in both the private sector and the U.S. Government. Most recently, he was a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. Dr. Goure spent two years in the U.S. Government as the director of the Office of Strategic Competitiveness in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He also served as a senior analyst on national security and defense issues with the Center for Naval Analyses, Science Applications International Corporation, SRS Technologies, R&D Associates, and System Planning Corporation.