US ‘Blocks’ Chinese Access To Quantum Technology But Report Claims Beijing Ahead In Race?

In recent years, the United States has taken multiple steps to restrict China’s access to American quantum technology, an emerging field with potential military applications. However, there are concerns that the US might already be lagging Beijing in the quantum technology race, Chinese media claims. 

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Quantum technology, with its potential to revolutionize computing power and enhance national security capabilities, has become a focal point in the geopolitical arena.

Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, citing a recent report by a US policy think tank, claimed that China seems to have gained a competitive advantage, particularly in research funding. 

The report published by the Centre for Strategic & International Studies warned that China’s advancement in quantum technology could pose significant challenges to US interests, especially in areas such as military applications and digital security.

The Biden administration’s executive order in 2022 prioritized the protection of quantum technology under the banner of “certain national security technologies” and identified specific “countries of concern,” reflecting the seriousness with which Washington views the issue.

A compiler for quantum computing: Leibniz-Rechenzentrum
Image for illustrative purposes only.

The strategic implications of China’s lead in quantum technology are profound. The report noted that as the technology matures, it is expected to enhance sensing, navigation, data security, and computing power capabilities. 

Failure to keep pace with China’s advancements could leave the United States vulnerable to potential threats and undermine its national security posture.

To counter China’s momentum, the report emphasizes the importance of strengthening alliances, particularly with European partners who possess key equipment necessary for quantum technology development. 

The report added that the United States must engage in constant dialogue with these nations and firms to build capacity and coordinate export controls effectively.

“The United States should, therefore, keep a constant dialogue with these nations and firms to build capacity and coordinate possible future export curbs once the technology is more established,” the paper noted.

However, the report also cautions against overly restrictive measures that could stifle the growth of the US and allied quantum industry. While acknowledging the urgency of the situation, it urges policymakers to strike a balance that safeguards national security interests while fostering innovation and competitiveness.

Race for Quantum Supremacy

The strategic significance of quantum science and technology has become a focal point for both the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), with both governments prioritizing its development to ensure economic and military leadership.

In the United States, quantum science has enjoyed bipartisan support, with successive administrations recognizing its importance. Significant increases in federal research and development (R&D) funding were observed in 2018, indicating a commitment to advancing in this critical field. 

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has singled out quantum technology as pivotal in shaping the next decade’s landscape.

In the realm of semiconductors, the United States implemented a heightened level of sanctions against China last year. These sanctions have had repercussions, limiting China’s access to advanced chipmaking tools and artificial intelligence processors.

Meanwhile, in China, President Xi Jinping’s personal involvement underscores the country’s commitment to quantum science. Xi convened a dedicated group study session of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo on the topic, emphasizing its scientific and strategic significance. 

Moreover, China’s noteworthy investment of US$15.3 billion in related research far exceeds the US contribution of US$3.7 billion. 

Satellite-based quantum key distribution – DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation, Germany

The strategic importance of quantum technology is further evidenced by its inclusion in China’s five-year development plan for 2021-2025, with recent government directives urging the nation to seize opportunities in this field.

The extent of progress made by Chinese researchers in quantum computing remains uncertain. However, according to the Pentagon’s 2021 report to Congress on China, the nation persists in its quest for dominance in critical technologies with substantial military implications.

Despite the lack of public information on the PRC’s military deployment plans for quantum technology, China has publicly pursued specific applications such as quantum radar. However, the US Department of Defense remains skeptical of the feasibility of such applications.

In contrast, the US military has taken tangible steps towards testing quantum sensors in operational settings. During the 2022 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises, US and allied navies conducted tests involving quantum gravimeters and inertial navigation systems.

However, as research accelerates in this domain, concerns are mounting in the United States that China could establish a significant lead in quantum technology, particularly in military applications. 

The competition for quantum supremacy is poised to shape the future of global technological leadership, and both nations are sparing no effort to emerge victorious in this high-stakes race.