China has a ‘stunning lead’ over the US in research on 37 of 44 critical and emerging technologies, new study finds

China has a “stunning lead” over the US in research on 37 of 44 critical and emerging technologies, new study finds.Jason Lee/REUTERS

  • China leads the US in research on 37 of 44 key technologies tracked by an Australian think tank.

  • These critical and emerging technologies span a range of sectors, including defense, aerospace and energy.

  • China’s research lead in these sectors could have implications for democratic countries.

According to the Canberra-based independent think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute, or ASPI, China has a “stunning lead” over the US in high-impact research on critical and emerging technologies.

The world’s second-largest economy leads the US in research into 37 of 44 critical and emerging technologies in the defense, aerospace, energy and biotechnology sectors – including research into advanced aircraft engines, drones and electric batteries – the ASPI said in its Thursday report. The US State Department partially funded the study.

The ASPI found that for a few areas, all of the world’s top 10 research institutions are in China, collectively generating nine times more high-impact research papers than the second-ranked country – in many cases the US. China, in particular, has a lead in defense and space technologies, according to the ASPI.

“Western democracies are losing global technology competition, including the race for scientific and research breakthroughs,” said the report, led by the institute’s senior analyst Jamie Gaida.

The ASPI said China’s lead is the product of “deliberate design and long-term policy planning” by President Xi Jinping’s administration and those before him.

The report’s authors warned that China’s research dominance in strategic sectors could have adverse consequences for democratic countries.

In the short term, the leadership could allow China to “put a stranglehold on the global supply of certain critical technologies.” According to the ASPI, China’s longer-term leadership could excel in almost all industries, including technologies that don’t yet exist.

“Left unchecked could shift not only 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 is not open and transparent and where it cannot be controlled by independent civil society and media,” the think tank said.

The ASPI is urging governments around the world to work together and invest more in research to catch up with China. It also recommended measures such as visa screening for visitors to research facilities to limit “illegal technology transfers” to China and said governments should consider “narrow boundaries” for the movements of researchers who are experts in strategic sectors.

“Recruiting personnel to lead research programs in, for example, defense-relevant technologies in hostile states poses a clear threat to a country’s national security,” the ASPI said. It added that serious national security risks should be identified before restrictions on movement are introduced, as these must be weighed against a person’s right to free movement.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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