China leads US in emerging technology

China leads US in global competition for key emerging technology, study says

Australian Strategic Policy Institute ~ February 24, 2023 // Reuters ~ March 2, 2023 // Fortune ~ March 3, 2023

SYDNEY, March 2 (Reuters) – China has a “stunning lead” in 37 out of 44 critical and emerging technologies as Western democracies lose a global competition for research output, a security think tank said on Thursday after tracking defence, space, energy and biotechnology.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said its study showed that, in some fields, all of the world’s top 10 research institutions are based in China.

The study, funded by the United States State Department, found the United States was often second-ranked, although it led global research in high-performance computing, quantum computing, small satellites and vaccines.

“Western democracies are losing the global technological competition, including the race for scientific and research breakthroughs,” the report said, urging greater research investment by governments.

China had established a “stunning lead in high-impact research” under government programs.

The report called for democratic nations to collaborate more often to create secure supply chains and “rapidly pursue a strategic critical technology step-up.”

ASPI tracked the most-cited scientific papers, which it said are the most likely to result in patents. China’s surprise breakthrough in hypersonic missiles in 2021 would have been identified earlier if China’s strong research had been detected, it said.

“Over the past five years, China generated 48.49% of the world’s high-impact research papers into advanced aircraft engines, including hypersonics, and it hosts seven of the world’s top 10 research institutions,” it said.

In the fields of photonic sensors and quantum communication, China’s research strength could result in it “going dark” to the surveillance of western intelligence, including the “Five Eyes” of Britain, United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, it said.

National talent flows of researchers were also tracked and monopoly risks were identified.

China was likely to emerge with a monopoly in 10 fields including synthetic biology, where it produces one-third of all research, as well as electric batteries, 5G, and nano manufacturing.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, a government research body, ranked first or second in most of the 44 technologies tracked, which spanned defence, space, robotics, energy, the environment, biotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced materials and quantum technology.

China was bolstering its research with knowledge gained overseas, and the data showed one-fifth of the top Chinese researchers were trained in a Five Eyes country, it said.

The study recommended visa screening programs to limit illegal technology transfers and instead favour international collaboration with security allies.

Australia’s universities have said they are complying with foreign influence laws designed to stop the illegal transfer of technology to China, but also noted international collaboration is an integral part of university research.

Flags of China, United States, India, Italy, Great Britain, Iran
[in other catergories they include South Korea, Germany, Australia and Japan]


One key area in which China excels is the defence and space-related technologies; a potential example of critical advanced jet aircraft engines (including hypersonics) of the future to dominate and control the sky: ASPI

Who are the individuals publishing the high-impact research that’s propelled China to an impressive lead? Where did they study and train? In advanced aircraft engines (including hypersonics), in which China is publishing more than four times as much high-impact research as the US (2nd place), there are two key insights.

First, the majority (68.6%) of high-impact authors trained at Chinese universities and now work in Chinese research institutions.

Second, China is also attracting talent to the workplace from democratic countries: 21.6% of high-impact authors completed their postgraduate training in a Five-Eyes country (US = 9.8%, UK = 7.8%, Canada = 3.9%, Australia = none, New Zealand = none), 2% trained in the EU, and 2% trained in Japan.

Although not quantified in this work, this is very likely to be a combination of Chinese nationals who went abroad for training and brought their newly acquired expertise back to China, and foreign nationals moving to China to work at a research institution or company.

World-leading research institutes typically also provide training for the next generation of innovators through high-quality undergraduates, masters and PhDs, and employment opportunities in which junior researchers are mentored by experts.

As China claims seven of the world’s top 10 research institutions for advanced aircraft engines (including hypersonics), its training system is largely decoupled, as there’s a sufficient critical mass of domestic expertise to train the next generation of top scientists.

However, a steady supply of new ideas and techniques is also provided by individuals trained overseas who are attracted to work in Chinese institutions.

A crucial question to ask is whether expertise in high-impact research translates into (sticking with the same example) the manufacture of world-leading jet engines. What of reports of reliability problems experienced with Chinese-manufactured jet engines? 

The skill set required for leading-edge engine research differs from the expertise, tacit knowledge and human capital needed to manufacture jet engines to extreme reliability requirements. This is an important caveat that readers should keep in mind, and it’s one we point out in multiple places throughout the report.

As one external reviewer put it, ‘If you’re good at origami but don’t yet excel at making decent paper, are you really good at origami?’ Naturally, manufacturing capability lags research breakthroughs.

However, in the example of jet-engine manufacturing, China appears to be making strides and has recognised the ‘choke-point’ of being entirely reliant on US and Swedish companies for the precision-grade stainless steel required for bearings in high performance aircraft engines. 

China’s excellent research performance in this area most likely reflects the prioritisation and investment by the CCP to overcome the reliability, and choke-point, hurdles of previous years.

ASPI’s Critical Technology Tracker The global race for future power

“He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him. He shall be the head, and thou shalt be the tail.”

“The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth, a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand,
“a nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old nor show favor to the young.
“And he shall eat the fruit of thy cattle and the fruit of thy land until thou be destroyed; he also shall not leave thee either corn, wine, or oil, or the increase of thy cattle, or flocks of thy sheep until he have destroyed thee.
“And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates until thy high and fortified walls come down wherein thou trusted, throughout all thy land; and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates throughout all thy land which the Lord thy God hath given thee,” Deuteronomy 28:44,49-51

~ by Joel Huan on March 4, 2023.

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