Both the U.S. government and independent academic researchers are telling the world what it needs to hear – China’s drive for dominance in the tech sector is a grave threat to American national security and free people everywhere.
Let’s start with the newly released Director of National Intelligence’s Annual Threat Assessment (ATA) – a yearly declassified summary of the intelligence community’s findings on America’s adversaries. As page 6 of the report states:
China will remain the top threat to U.S. technological competitiveness as Beijing targets key sectors and proprietary commercial and military technology from U.S. and allied companies and institutions. Beijing uses a variety of tools, from public investment to espionage to advance its technological capabilities. Beijing’s willingness to use espionage, subsidies, and trade policy to give its firms a competitive advantage represents not just an ongoing challenge for the U.S. economy and its workers, but also advances Beijing’s ability to assume leadership of the world’s technological advancement and standards.
The problem here isn’t just that Beijing is trying to gain a competitive advantage over the U.S. – something nations are entitled to pursue. It’s what Beijing intends to do with technological supremacy that’s the real concern. As the ATA also says, “China uses coordinated, whole-of-government tools to demonstrate strength and compel neighbors to acquiesce to Beijing’s preferences.” Simply put, gaining an advantage in the technological sphere gives Beijing another weapon by which it can coerce other nations, including the U.S., in pursuit of its geopolitical goals.
Another newly-released report by the National Bureau of Asian Research, “China’s Digital Ambitions: A Global Strategy to Supplant the Liberal Order” goes even further in detailing the Chinese threat. In sum, the authors conclude “This report judges that China is strategically and deliberately capitalizing on the digital revolution as an opportunity to define and assert control over international resources, markets, and governance.” Again, whether by scraping the world’s data, exporting digital hardware throughout the world, pursuing advancements in 5G and AI, reshaping the world’s technical standards, or using other means, Beijing is pulling the levers of technology to remake the world on its authoritarian terms.
The NBAR paper recognizes just how deeply enmeshed Chinese technology is inside American systems already. Writes Matt Turpin, one of the report’s authors:
“For many of us, our relationship with digital infrastructure starts and ends with our smartphone or Wi-Fi router, which leaves us blind to the myriad of hardware, software, and commercial service providers that operate this system behind the scenes. The opaqueness of this infrastructure creates vulnerabilities, whether from a lack of knowledge of the software bill of materials that helped enable Russia’s SolarWinds hack, the PRC’s nearly decade-long compromise of over a dozen managed service providers with the APT-10 hack, or the alleged hardware hack by the PRC using Supermicro.”
Clearly, American leaders in both government and business have a lot of work to do to rip Chinese tech from the American digital ecosystem and replace it with components sourced elsewhere (read more about that effort via China Tech Threat’s overview of the Secure Equipment Act).Without taking dramatic steps to solve the problem, we can only expect the CCP to continue to compromise Americans’ civil liberties, personal data, intellectual property, and national security.