The United States and other western countries are losing the race with China to develop advanced technologies and retain talent, with Beijing potentially establishing a monopoly in some areas, a new report has said.
China leads in 37 of 44 technologies tracked in a year-long project by thinktank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The fields include electric batteries, hypersonics and advanced radio-frequency communications such as 5G and 6G.
The report, published on Thursday, said the US was the leader in just the remaining seven technologies such as vaccines, quantum computing and space launch systems.
It said the findings were based on “high impact” research in critical and emerging technology fields, focusing on papers that were published in top-tier journals and were highly cited by subsequent research.
“Our research reveals that China has built the foundations to position itself as the world’s leading science and technology superpower, by establishing a sometimes stunning lead in high-impact research across the majority of critical and emerging technology domains,” the report said.
“The critical technology tracker shows that, for some technologies, all of the world’s top 10 leading research institutions are based in China and are collectively generating nine times more high-impact research papers than the second-ranked country (most often the US).”
The Chinese Academy of Sciences ranked first or second in most of the 44 technologies included in the tracker, the report added.
“We also see China’s efforts being bolstered through talent and knowledge import: one-fifth of its high-impact papers are being authored by researchers with postgraduate training in a Five-Eyes country,” it said, referring to the intelligence-sharing grouping of the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
“China’s lead is the product of deliberate design and long-term policy planning, as repeatedly outlined by Xi Jinping and his predecessors.”
Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address last month that the US was “investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future, and that China’s government is intent on dominating”.
But the institute said China was at high risk of establishing a monopoly in eight technologies, including nanoscale materials and manufacturing, hydrogen and ammonia for power, and synthetic biology.
The report said China’s strides in nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles in 2021 should not have been a surprise to US intelligence agencies “because, according to our data analysis, 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 in this topic area”.
Across the board, the institute also found that there was “a large gap between China and the US, as the leading two countries, and everyone else”.
“The data then indicates a small, second-tier group of countries led by India and the UK: other countries that regularly appear in this group-in many technological fields— include South Korea, Germany, Australia, Italy, and less often, Japan,” it said.
The research, launched at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi on Thursday, was conducted by a team led by Jamie Gaida, a senior analyst with the institute’s international cyber policy centre.
The institute disclosed that its research was funded by the US state department’s global engagement center and a grant from the Special Competitive Studies Project, a foundation that aims to strengthen America’s long-term competitiveness.
The institute also called for democracies to establish large sovereign wealth funds for research, development and innovation in critical technology that they add to each year. It suggests allocating 0.5% to 0.7% of gross national income, with co-investment from industry.
It said while sovereign wealth funds should support the most promising programs, governments should also allocate some funds to high-risk, high-reward “moonshot” initiatives.