U.S.-China Technological “Decoupling”: A Strategy and Policy Framework

U.S.-China Technological “Decoupling”: A Strategy and Policy Framework

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Technology is the engine that powers superpowers. As the chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), I led the effort that ultimately delivered a harsh message to the U.S. Congress and to the administration: America is not prepared to defend or compete in the AI era. The fact is that America has been technologically dominant for so long that some U.S. leaders came to take it for granted. They were wrong. A second technological superpower, China, has emerged. It happened with such astonishing speed that we’re all still straining to understand the implications.

Washington has awakened to find the United States deeply technologically enmeshed with its chief long-term rival. America built those technology ties over many years and for lots of good reasons. China’s tech sector continues to benefit American businesses, universities, and citizens in myriad ways—providing critical skilled labor and revenue to sustain U.S. R&D, for example. But that same Chinese tech sector also powers Beijing’s military build-up, unfair trade practices, and repressive social control.

What should we do about this? In Washington, many people I talk to give a similar answer. They say that some degree of technological separation from China is necessary, but we shouldn’t go so far as to harm U.S. interests in the process. That’s exactly right, of course, but it’s also pretty vague. How partial should this partial separation be—would 15 percent of U.S.-China technological ties be severed, or 85 percent? Which technologies would fall on either side of the cut line? And what, really, is the strategy for America’s long-term technology relationship with China? The further I probe, the less clarity and consensus I find.

In fairness, these are serious dilemmas. They’re also unfamiliar. “Decoupling” entered the Washington lexicon just a few years ago, and it represents a dramatic break from earlier assumptions. In 2018, for example, I remarked that the global internet would probably bifurcate into a Chinese-led internet and a U.S.-led internet. Back then, this idea was still novel enough that the comment made headlines around the world. Now, the prediction has already come halfway true. Meanwhile, policymakers—who usually aren’t technologists—have scrambled to educate themselves about the intricate global supply chains that still link the United States, China, and many other countries.

In 2019, I was appointed to be the chair of the NSCAI, a congressionally mandated bipartisan commission that was charged with “consider[ing] the methods and means necessary to advance the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and associated technologies to comprehensively address the national security and defense needs of the United States.”1 I worked with leaders in industry, academia, and government to formulate recommendations that would be adopted by Congress, the administration, and departments and agencies.

We were successful, but this effort did not go far enough. That is why I continue to advocate for major legislation (such as the United States Innovation and Competition Act and the America COMPETES Act), to develop the next phase of implementable policy options (through

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The United States requirements a office of technological know-how and science policy

The United States requirements a office of technological know-how and science policy
The White House in Washington DC at sunny day.

The White Home in Washington DC. It incorporates the Workplace of Science and Technological innovation Plan, which will help to coordinate federal science coverage.Credit: Getty

Not like most other sophisticated economies, the United States has commonly relied on a diversity of decentralized federal science companies to design and style and perform the government’s analysis programmes. With funding choices manufactured by quite a few congressional committees and with small oversight from the Office environment of Science and Technological innovation Plan (OSTP) in the White House, this technique has been enormously successful.

As former administrators of one of individuals science organizations, the Countrywide Institutes of Well being (NIH), we continue to be followers of our dispersed federal technique. It encourages a broad base of help for the sciences in Congress, and it protects primary investigation from partisan politics and from narrowly managed arranging procedures. It has fostered US management in scientific discovery considering the fact that the 2nd Environment War.

Yet we have arrive to realize that the place wants an further system to advertise national and world wide objectives: a Office of Know-how and Science Coverage (DTSP), the chief of which would join other office heads and administration leaders to sort the president’s Cabinet.

What must this department do, and why do we suggest it now? In excess of the previous ten years or extra, the US authorities has been demanded to do more in science and engineering than simply foster discovery and then hope the non-public sector to use all those discoveries to functional applications — as Vannevar Bush, who organized the US government’s science programmes during the Second Entire world War, recommended in his foundational advice additional than 75 many years back1. Expanding calls for have been precipitated by pandemics, climate alter, transitions in sources of electricity, loss of organic variety, and other pure and social crises. Also, the growing power of the scientific business in huge elements of Asia and in a primarily unified Europe has sharpened the competition for world-wide management, primarily in the professional sectors that are dependent on science and technological know-how.

Governments in just about all hugely produced economies have responded to these types of pressures by creating ministries to go after strategic analysis ambitions and to coordinate very long-term functions across sectors (see ‘Science governance in analysis-intensive regions’). China’s Ministry of Science and Technological innovation, for illustration, has developed and funded the Produced in China 2025 system. This will spend in main systems this kind of as semiconductors, biotechnology, computing and other strategic industries, with the goal of China accomplishing 70% self-sufficiency by 2025 and 100% by 2049 (see go.nature.com/2zeknxs). Equally, the European Union’s 95.5-billion (US$108-billion) Horizon Europe investigate programme for 2021–27 is meant to enhance industrial competitiveness in all systems that are vital to a modern-day financial state (see go.nature.com/2zdjpne).

The United States now would seem to be the only analysis-intensive region devoid of this sort of an instrument, restricting its capacity to contend and, similarly importantly,

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