As for China, U.S. Must Take Care of its Own Business First
Hand-wringing on the “China threat” has become commonplace in national security circles. The day this column is published there will probably be another dozen similar articles sounding the alarm about the possibilities of China overtaking the United States in various technology fields.
The more articles the better. One problem is that the general public and a good many lawmakers are either not aware of the importance of the rivalry, or are not taking it very seriously. As they say in addiction recovery programs, the first step is acknowledging you have a problem. It’s not clear that the United States has taken that step yet.
Meanwhile, the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in a recent communiqué reiterated its determination to become a technology powerhouse.
In the “Editor’s Notes” for the November issue of the magazine, I put forth that the United States and China are engaged in a “Tech War,” and that we were already 0-1 as Beijing over the past few decades managed to secure a monopoly on rare earth processing, along with several other strategic minerals.
But China’s ambitions extend to commercial tech, trade and influence on the world stage. It would be myopic for readers of this magazine to see the rivalry solely in terms of military technology. The Tech War involves many fronts, some of which may not be obviously connected to defense.
A strong U.S. military depends on a strong U.S. economy. The recent trade conflict with China resulted in massive losses in agricultural sales for American farmers. The Trump administration had to bail out the sector with some $28 billion in subsidies. Could the Pentagon, or other departments, have put $28 billion to other use? Surely. Is the agriculture sector every bit as vital to the U.S. economy as the defense sector?
Here are some more thoughts on how to come out on top of this Tech War, which will probably continue for the remainder of the century.
First, baseball managers come to mind. Every September when a Major League skipper is asked about a pennant race with a rival team, he inevitably says, “we just have to take care of our business and not worry what the other team is doing.”
This analogy fits when it comes to investing in basic and applied research in advanced technologies. Beijing has told the world exactly where it intends to spend its R&D yuan over the next decade: biotechnologies, quantum tech, space, aeronautics, and so on. Congress needs to step up and support bills that call for Manhattan Project-like programs that seek big investments in emerging technologies. Boosting 5G, advanced computing and biotech R&D budgets will have positive benefits for the U.S. economy.
Another point: the United States doesn’t have to go it alone. While China does sit on a seemingly unending pile of money to invest in these technologies — and the United States faces years of flat budgets — we have friends and allies. Japan, Australia, Israel, NATO nations and Chinese-speaking Taiwan and Singapore are motivated and able to contribute, especially in the realm of military technology. We need to break down the barriers to creating joint R&D programs.
A second part of “taking care of your own business first” concerns intellectual property theft. National Defense was at a trade show back in 2005 when a Pentagon official warned members of industry that they were being robbed blind by an entity called “the advanced persistent threat.” If contractors didn’t start securing their sensitive data, the Defense Department would have to step in, he warned.
Fifteen years later, the government felt compelled to create the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification. The Trump administration came into power four years ago with an anti-regulation fervor, but it sure created a big fat new layer of bureaucracy with the CMMC, which forces all defense contractors to comply with varying levels of cybersecurity standards in order to receive contract awards.
Why? Because industry was apparently not doing enough to secure vital data and the “advanced persistent threat” lived up to its name, particularly the persistent part.
While policy dictated — for some reason — that officials couldn’t call the “APT” what it was, namely China, a long line of U.S. diplomats went to Beijing to ask its government to stop stealing IP. Chinese officials smiled, said “sure” or “we’ll look into that,” but nothing changed.
And, news flash, nothing will change. No matter how many times industry was told that Beijing was after its data, the theft continued unabated.
A cursory look at the basic requirements companies big and small must meet to be CMMC compliant is a head scratcher for us outsiders.
Why wouldn’t contractors want to do this basic cyber hygiene to start with? The same could be said of the federal government, which suffered its own security breaches. Contractors and the government alike need to take care of their own business and put a cork on IP and data theft.
No matter how America reacts to this rivalry, or Tech War, expect China to be relentless. Its ambitions to knock the United States off its perch as a technological and world leader are clear and it will march toward those goals whether we take action or not.
Next month, this column will take a look at the complicated and controversial practice of allowing Chinese students to study at U.S. universities.
Topics: Defense Department