Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Keeping an Eye on the Long Game: Part XCVII

As important as it is to count the number and type of warships the People's Republic of China (PRC) is building for their navy is, how productive their shipyards are, and even the negative impact of their crashing demographics - there are other things that are arguably more important to track in order to see what the challenge will be before it comes over the horizon. 

That is what we have been doing for the last 18-years of the "Long Game" series on the PRC - looking further than the threat of the next few POM cycles. The PRC is playing a long game, we should do our best to understand it.

Where a warship has an effective life of 30-yrs or a bit more, there are assets that last much longer, continually modernize themselves, and when combined together, are much more powerful in aggregate than the sum of the individuals - that is human capital, specifically intellectual capital.

In 2023, the American taxpayer and their elected representatives would not stand by and accept if our defense contractors were building warships, aircraft, and armored vehicles for the PRC's military (one hopes). No arguments from industry about profits or the number of jobs these contracts would bring to communities in the USA would gain traction (one hopes). If anything, it would bring a popular revolt (one hopes).   

If that is true, then why would the American higher education system be any different? Specifically I am referencing the top research universities - which almost all American taxpayers pay for - STEM undergraduate, and especially the very few masters and PhD programs? 

I don't care if they are paying full price - why are we helping the PRC develop their future technology?

Anyone who, like your humble blogg'r, has kids and relatives of college age whose graduation ceremonies you attend can tell, PRC passport holders are taking up a HUGE portion of available slots. In a highly competitive environment, the difference between getting a spot or not in highly competitive programs at our top universities is a matter of small degrees. For each PRC national getting a PhD in chemical engineering at a top tier university, that is an American citizen - or the citizen of an allied nation - who is not.

This has been going on for decades. What is the result? 

Over at Breaking Defense there is a nice wakeup call to what we have helped create;

In a new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the US comes second to China in the majority of critical technology research areas examined, like artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology and quantum technology and specifically in defense and space-related technologies. The report uses ASPI’s new Critical Technology Tracker, a tool that lets users track 44 technologies considered “foundational” for national security, economies and more areas.


China is outpacing the US and other democratic nations in 37 out of 44 technology research areas considered advanced and critical, setting the stage for potentially devastating immediate and long-term consequences if western nations don’t “wake up,” according to a think tank’s latest findings. 

In a large part building off the first generation of people educated in the USA and other Western nations' best universities, the PRC has some good universities ... but they cannot hold a candle to the culture of innovation and research at ours. In dual use technology areas ... we are not just helping them get a technological edge, we are helping them bring their military closer to a qualitive equality - eating away at our hedge against the quantity a nation 4x the size of ours will bring to any fight.

In many of these areas, the PRC is not a "pacing" or "rising" threat - they've already lapped us;

“To close, and surpass, the technological gap China is creating, the US not only needs to invest more, but also harness the power of commercial data to inform strategic investments to expel foreign influence and adversarial capital from our industrial base,” she added. “Only then can we begin to find America’s edge in the fight against China.”
People matter.

We cannot change the mistakes of the past. The PRC has what they have.

“In the long term, China’s leading research position means that it has set itself up to excel not just in current technological development in almost all sectors, but in future technologies that don’t yet exist…,” the report says.

What we can do is control our decisions for the future. If someone from the PRC wants to come to the USA to get a PhD in Gender Studies; knock yourself out. Comparative French Literature? Sure.

Other things ... naw ... 

ASPI made a total of 23 recommendations in its report, calling for increased investments in areas like research and development, talent development and the production of intelligence strategies, while also advocating for governments to come up with more creative policy ideas and more collaboration between partners and allies. 
This is the point of the article that I started to get frustrated. You can almost feel the author trying NOT to propose what is the most logical first step; stop training your adversaries.

Until we stop underwriting the development and ongoing modernization of the PRC's intellectual capital, their strength and dominance in existing and emerging strategic dual use technology will only grow.

Universities will not do it. At the State level, citizens need to tell their governors and state legislatures they don't want their universities sending citizens away in order to take PRC money. At the federal level, Congress must act where appropriate.

Graph credit Eric Rosenblum.

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