By Doug Kelly, CEO of American Edge Project

In a recent interview with 60 Minutes, FBI Director Christopher Wray didn’t mince words: China runs the world’s largest and most sophisticated hacking operation, and it is pointed directly at Main Street USA, threatening “American jobs, American families, American livelihoods” with “flesh and blood, kitchen-table consequences.” 

This blunt assessment from Wray came at an unprecedented meeting with the top intelligence chiefs from four major allies – the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – on how to deal with the growing danger of China’s hacking. Wray’s words should also serve as a stark warning to U.S. and allied policymakers that it matters greatly which country wins the race for global technology leadership.

China’s Plan For Global Technology Leadership

China wants to be the sole global superpower by 2040. Technology is central to that strategy, so it is executing a relentless, decades-long plan to usurp America’s global technology edge. Its three-part plan includes: 1) investing trillions to building up its domestic technology capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, 5/6G wireless, and high-tech manufacturing; 2) stealing up to $500 billion each year in American technology and intellectual property; and 3) making the world increasingly depending on China’s technology and supply chains. 

China is making great technological gains so far: A report last year by the respected Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) found that China has surged ahead of America in 37 of 44 categories of critical technologies, and in some cases China is approaching a near-dominant position in key technologies.

Data this week from Bloomberg shows China is accelerating its lead over the United States in AI patent filings. In fact, in 2022, Chinese institutions applied for an astounding 29,853 AI-related patents – 80 percent more than U.S. entities. China also accounted for more than 40 percent of all global AI patent applications over the past year. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government is also pushing its companies, its investors, and its agencies to gain an edge in other key areas, including chipmaking, space exploration, quantum, and other strategic technologies. 

To deepen the world’s dependency on Chinese technology, Beijing is using its “Digital Silk Road” (DSR) initiative to embed China-made digital infrastructure and tighten e-commerce ties to more than 40 geopolitically important countries across five continents.

This infrastructure, which includes 4G/5G wireless communications, broadband, subsea cables, cloud computing, surveillance systems, and satellite communications, will not only block out U.S. tech company competitors, but could also result in both espionage and political coercion of leaders in those countries if China uses data breaches to blackmail political elites in those states.

Worse, as global internet freedom continues to decline, China’s DSR can allow partner countries to restrict their internets by controlling data flows, filtering content,  and spying on and reporting user activity – in short, a massive exporting of China’s “digital authoritarianism” to dozens of countries across the world.

How America And Our Allies Need To Respond

China is not content to just catch up with the U.S.— it intends to lead. To effectively respond to China’s technological ambitions, America and our allies need a coherent strategy that prioritizes accelerating innovation in emerging fields like AI, quantum computing, and cyber defense. For mission critical technologies like microchips, we need to produce them domestically or in partnership with allied nations. America must also actively promote the benefits of an open and accessible internet for preserving democratic ideals around the world to counter China’s push for a more controlled internet landscape. 

However, simply enhancing our technological capabilities is not enough. We must also safeguard our intellectual assets by thwarting China’s attempts to steal our tech secrets. This safeguarding includes select restrictions on the flow of Western technology to China that could help them leapfrog us economically or militarily. 

Lastly, to win the tech race, we must avoid excessive regulations that undermine our innovation capabilities. These short-sighted policies include antitrust measures, heavy restrictions on mergers and acquisitions that scale new ideas, Europe’s Digital Markets Act, and other harmful policies that may hand China a decades-long advantage in technology.

The free world is counting on America to win the tech race against China. That’s the only way we will protect and advance Western values, boost our collective security, and preserve our economic prosperity in the coming decades. Policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic must ensure that they are helping, not hurting, our long-term success.