By Doug Kelly, CEO of American Edge

We already knew that China employs a massive hacking effort to steal American trade secrets and sensitive data. Now, the U.S. military’s new cyber chief is warning of a new type of Chinese threat, one designed to implant sleeper malware inside of America’s critical infrastructure – and allowing them to activate it at a strategic moment of their choosing in order to disrupt critical systems and presumably seek to unleash chaos. This new threat could cause unprecedented disruptions to our daily lives, impacting millions of Americans.

General Timothy Haugh, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, says China’s malware effort is a “very unique and different” type of threat because it’s not targeting military systems, but instead is focused on everything from water supplies to power grids to transportations systems, with the goal of disrupting and injuring civilians, possibly during a future crisis with Taiwan, which would quite likely be initiated by the Chinese. Imagine waking up one day to find your city without power or water. This is not a distant possibility, but a real threat posed by China’s cyber strategies.

Haugh said the U.S. military does not target the civilian infrastructure of our adversaries, noting that “it is inconsistent with how we would approach a proportional military necessity target.”

The infrastructure of both America and our allies is on China’s target list. Different local arms of China’s Ministries of State Security and Public Security, as well as the People’s Liberation Army, hire private contractors to embed destructive malware overseas. Leaked documents from just one of these Chinese firms showed the massive scale of this pre-positioning effort: government agencies in Malaysia, Thailand, and Mongolia were targeted, as well as universities in Taiwan, France, and Hong Kong. Other reports note that the United Kingdom and Australia were also compromised.

That’s why it’s so important that the United States win the race for global tech leadership against China: Because Beijing and America have diametrically opposed visions when it comes to technology and how it should be used.

America’s vision is about the public using tech for growth and opportunity; expression and speech; and freedom and democracy. We back those values up by supporting open internet policies, strong intellectual property protections, and regulatory frameworks that encourage innovation while protecting individual rights. These policies have not only protected and advanced democratic values, but also led to the development of groundbreaking technologies and platforms that benefit society.

China’s vision, however, centers on the government using tech for censorship, control, and suppression of its own population and as a weapon against civilian populations and the infrastructure of its rivals. China is also aggressively exporting its “digital authoritarian” efforts to other countries around the world.

To ensure America and its allies lead in the strategic technologies of today and tomorrow, we need a bipartisan embrace of policies that accelerate innovation, especially in microchips, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum, and others. This includes supporting tax credits for research and development (R&D), favorable tax conditions for venture capital investments, fostering Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education partnerships, and scrutinizing foreign investments for intellectual property security. We also need to harden our cyber-defenses against China’s ongoing attacks, which will require investment in advanced security measures and cooperation with private sector domestic tech companies to stay ahead of these threats.

Additionally, we must avoid passing self-sabotaging regulations that inadvertently hand China the tech edge. These include restrictions on mergers and acquisitions (M&A), forced technology transfers, antitrust revisions, and Digital Markets Act (DMA)-like legislation that targets primarily American innovators, but leave China’s relatively unscathed.

Technology is not just another sector of our economy. It’s the very backbone of our collective national security, economic prosperity, and our values. Because it matters greatly which country – and which set of values – builds the future. We must act with urgency now to ensure that American values of freedom and democracy prevail in the technological landscape of tomorrow.