9:30 am EDT - 12:00 pm EDT

Past Event

Webinar: Global China — Assessing China’s technological reach in the world

Friday, May 08, 2020

9:30 am - 12:00 pm EDT

Online Only

China’s rapid technological advances are playing a central role in contemporary geopolitical competition. The United States, and many of its partners and allies, have acute concerns about how Beijing may deploy or exploit technology in ways that challenge many of their top interests and values. While the United States has maintained its position as the technologically dominant power for decades, China has made enormous investments and implemented policies that have contributed significantly to its economic growth, military capability, and global influence. In some areas, China has eclipsed, or is on the verge of eclipsing, the United States — particularly in the rapid deployment of certain technologies.

On Friday, May 8, Foreign Policy at Brookings hosted a virtual event to address such issues. Brookings President John R. Allen and Jason Matheny, founding director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), introduced the event, which complements the latest installment of papers in the Brookings series on “Global China: Assessing China’s Growing Role in the World.”

To kick things off, Chris Meserole, deputy director of the Brookings Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technology Initiative, moderated a discussion on global technology infrastructure. Brookings Governance Studies Senior Fellow Nicol Turner Lee discussed the “race” to deploy 5G wireless networks and associated standard-setting competition, calling for the development of a coherent U.S. national strategy focused on research and development and better coordination with competitors to Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Brookings Economic Studies Fellow Aaron Klein then described how consumer financial transactions in China have shifted toward digital payments on platforms such as AliPay and WeChat Pay, which link social media with digital commerce, reducing the role of banks in the process. Klein discussed the export of these payment systems beyond China and highlighted potential national security implications.

Brookings Foreign Policy Senior Fellow Frank Rose focused on the implications of China’s ambitions and achievements in outer space. Rose noted China’s longstanding commitment, dating back to the Cold War, to establish space leadership to bolster its strategic capabilities.

Brookings Foreign Policy Nonresident Senior Fellow Sheena Chestnut Greitens identified China’s growing export of surveillance technologies and the parallel growth in demand from countries with a wide range of political systems. She highlighted privacy and data collection concerns and the potential implications of data integration.

Carrick Flynn, research fellow at Georgetown’s CSET, noted the strategic advantage the United States has over China in advanced semiconductors, which China needs for its surveillance technologies and state-of-the-art weapon systems. Flynn discussed the potential effectiveness of targeted export controls, particularly as China seeks to achieve self-sufficiency in advanced chip production.

The second panel on U.S.-China technological competition, moderated by Brookings and Georgetown CSET Fellow Tarun Chhabra, focused on artificial intelligence, biotechnology, alliance management, and technology regulation. Michael Brown, managing director of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, underscored China’s ambition to restore its historical dominance in East Asia and discussed a broad spectrum of policies the U.S. should pursue in a 21st century “superpower marathon.”

Elsa Kania, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, highlighted Beijing’s aspirations for integrating artificial intelligence systems into weapon systems as a significant component of its military modernization efforts.

Scott Moore, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Global China Program, addressed both China’s ambitions to surpass the United States in biotechnology, and its prospects for related competition and cooperation, particularly amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Georgetown CSET Senior Fellow Andrew Imbrie addressed ways the United States could increase cooperation with its network of allies and partners to address the technology-related challenges China poses.

Brookings Governance Studies Visiting Fellow Tom Wheeler, former chair of the Federal Communications Commission, expressed concern that large technology firms are leveraging U.S. competition with China to ward off regulation. He argued that Washington should pursue a much more “pro–competitive” orientation and regulatory reforms that incentivize a shift away from the current focus on short–term profits toward a longer–term approach that spurs greater investment in innovation.

The panel concluded with a discussion on increasing private and public funding for research and development and fostering a more strategic approach toward allied engagement on research collaborations, as well as global norm- and standard-setting.

Event Recap By
Scarlett Ho Research Assistant - Foreign Policy, Center for East Asia Policy, The Brookings Institution

Panel conversation: U.S.-China technological competition