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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

The Intensifying U.S. – China Tech Race: Grasping for Power in the Twenty-First Century

Recent developments have revolutionized the decades-long battle between the U.S. and China.
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Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Joe Biden meet before the G20 Bali Summit in 2022. Behind this facade of cooperation is an underlying rivalry in the name of a great power competition. (Photo Credit: White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Growing up, many people were told stories of the famed space race of the 1960s: two major global powers competing for hegemony through space exploration, with the moon landing becoming a landmark of American history. Yet, although the U.S.-Soviet rivalry ended in the 1990s, this revolutionary idea of technology serving as a gateway for power has done quite the opposite, instead becoming a critical concept that has defined international power dynamics in the 21st century. It is most prominently seen through the lens of the U.S.-China technology race. 

Indeed, in recent decades, rather than relying on traditional measures such as GDP or military power in order to assess the relative power of nations, a shift has occurred towards a new variable, technology. As a result, the tech race, a high-stakes competition, specifically between the United States and China has escalated, as both President Joe Biden of the United States and President Xi Jinping of China make ground-breaking policy shifts.

However, it is impossible to understand the purpose and importance of this race without first recognizing how the United States entered it. 

The Historical Roots of the Race 

After World War II, the U.S. emerged as a technological and economic superpower. The Cold War with the Soviet Union spurred significant investments in technology, particularly in military and space domains. This era saw the U.S. making substantial advancements in computing, aerospace, and telecommunications. The establishment of institutions like NASA and DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) catalyzed innovations that would later spill over into the commercial sector.

Simultaneously, China, under leader Mao Zedong, was largely agrarian and technologically underdeveloped, due to isolationist policies and the Cultural Revolution. The landscape began to change dramatically in 1978, when Deng Xiaoping initiated economic reforms and opened China to foreign investment and technology. These reforms aimed to modernize China’s economy and close its technological gap with the West.

With both the United States and China now having advanced economies and technologies, the 1980s and 1990s marked the era of globalization, which played a pivotal role in the tech race. China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 was a watershed moment. It integrated China into the global economy, allowing it to access advanced technologies and markets. U.S. companies, seeking lower production costs, outsourced manufacturing to China, which facilitated transfer of technology.

Over time, China moved up the value chain from low-tech manufacturing to high-tech production. President Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012 marked a critical point in this development, as he began shifting the focus of Chinese foreign and domestic policies towards technological advancement. In 2015, Jinping announced the ‘Made in China 2025’ plan, a policy designed to make China a global leader in key sectors such as robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and biotechnology. The state has since then directed substantial resources towards research and development, leveraging public-private partnerships to accelerate innovation.

Meanwhile, the United States made its similar intentions clear in 2017 with the formal declaration of its ‘Great Power Competition’ doctrine, a foreign policy that set the stage for a rivalry with China. Central to this competition is the race for technological innovation, perceived as the key to unlocking the coveted mantle of global hegemony. 

Throughout this period, the rise of Chinese tech giants like Huawei, Tencent, and Alibaba, coupled with China’s advancements in AI and 5G, began to alarm U.S. policymakers. Concerns over intellectual property theft, espionage, and the potential for Chinese dominance in critical technologies prompted the U.S. to take a more confrontational stance. Counter-measures have included tariffs, sanctions, and restrictions on Chinese companies’ access to U.S. technology.

The rivalry then intensified into what some analysts call a “technological decoupling.” The U.S. and China have begun to build parallel technological ecosystems, with each striving for self-sufficiency. This has thrown both countries into a new era of hastened technological development, and as the race accelerates, the stakes grow higher. 

Looking Towards the Future – Recent Advancements and Continuous Impacts

In the coming years, the landscape of the race is set to change dramatically. The recent Chinese lunar mission exemplifies Beijing’s ambitions to not only match but surpass the achievements of its rivals. Simultaneously, NASA’s endeavors underscore America’s determination to maintain its position at the forefront of space exploration and innovation.

However, the battleground extends beyond space. In society, this race will likely accelerate the adoption of AI and automation. For instance, in China, government-led initiatives are rapidly integrating AI into nearly every part of life, creating ‘smart cities.’ Enabled by the deployment of 5G technology that enhances connectivity, these cities contain  connected networks of sensors and communication devices,known as the ‘Internet of Things.’ 

For instance, some Chinese cities use sensors and cameras to monitor traffic flow in real time. The data collected is then inputted into an algorithm that is said to optimize traffic light timings, reduce congestion, and enhance public transportation schedules. 

Furthermore, in these cities, rather than swiping a card, people pay for the subway by scanning their faces in recognition technology. As they enter, screens in subway stations display the exact number of passengers in each subway car. 

Even in people’s homes, connected meters and sensors are used for monitoring and management of electricity, water, and gas usage. This system helps in detecting leaks, reducing waste, and optimizing resource allocation.

As evidenced by these smart cities, China’s early lead in 5G infrastructure could give it a strategic advantage in setting global standards. However, U.S. concerns over cybersecurity and data privacy have led to efforts to restrict Chinese tech influence, resulting in the divided global tech ecosystem that defines modern-day society. 

Beyond these smart cities, quantum computing has arisen as a point of discussion. Quantum computing is a new and advanced area of computing that uses principles from quantum mechanics, a theory in physics, to process information in ways that are completely different from how regular computers function, enabling this technology to solve problems previously regarded as “unsolvable.” 

These advancements promise unprecedented computational power, revolutionizing fields such as cryptography, materials science, and problematic system modeling. Both the U.S. and China are heavily investing in quantum research, aiming for breakthroughs that could confer substantial economic and military advantages. The race in quantum technology will drive policy decisions on intellectual property, international research collaborations, cybersecurity measures, and more.

Rising Concerns

Regardless of impressive technological achievements, the societal implications of this innovation race are profound and must be acknowledged. 

Most prominently, there is the issue of national security. As both nations strive to dominate in areas such as AI, quantum computing, and 5G networks, the potential for cyber espionage and intellectual property theft escalates. This leads to heightened mistrust and could spark retaliatory measures that undermine global stability.

Moreover, the economic implications are significant. As countries around the world are forced to choose sides and navigate a complex web of alliances and economic dependencies, negative consequences such as protectionist policies, trade wars, and disruptions in global supply chains are likely to come to fruition.  Such economic friction can stifle international collaboration, increase costs for consumers, and hinder the overall progress of global technology development. 

Furthermore, the environmental impact of this race cannot be ignored. The production and disposal of these technologies can lead to significant ecological damage if not managed responsibly. 

Lastly, ethical concerns arise with the rapid deployment of new technologies. Innovations in AI and surveillance can lead to increased government control and erosion of privacy. Both nations have faced criticism over their handling of data privacy and civil liberties, sparking fears about the potential misuse of technology for authoritarian purposes. 

Consequently, AI has only grown as a point of contention worldwide. There are unquestionable benefits, from convenience to efficacy and more, yet with these benefits come substantial risks. Thankfully, however, these risks can be mitigated without changing the core of AI. “The issue does not lie in the technology itself but rather in the way that people are using it…AI should not be leveraged as a weapon, but rather used as an aid to humans,”  Simone Ginsberg  ’26 said.

Even at Bronx Science, AI is a double-edged sword. While highlighting the benefits of AI in a school environment, Ginsberg also reasoned that “if students continue to use ChatGPT solely for generating their essays, as opposed to using it instead for inspiration and ideas, it will inherently have a negative effect on their lives.” 

Indeed, as AI is becoming increasingly prevalent in modern-day society, largely resulting from the U.S.-China tech race, it is more important than ever to be vigilant about the ethics of AI. From smart cities to factories and schools, each use of AI must be carefully examined and evaluated at its merits in order to enable AI, and humans alike, to live up to their potential. 

Indeed, in recent decades, rather than relying on traditional measures such as GDP or military power to assess the relative power of nations, a shift has occurred towards a new variable, technology. As a result, the tech race, a high-stakes competition, specifically between the United States and China has escalated, as both President Joe Biden of the United States and President Xi Jinping of China make ground-breaking policy shifts.

About the Contributor
Sophia Birman, Staff Reporter
Sophia Birman is a Staff Reporter and a News Editor for ‘The Science Survey,' where, in addition to writing articles herself, she edits many of her peers’ News pieces. She thoroughly enjoys the thought-provoking research and meaning behind journalistic writing that produces captivating stories. She believes that journalistic writing is the key to spreading awareness, not only about monumental events, but also about seemingly insignificant stories that paint a bigger picture of society as a whole. Furthermore, Sophia is enthusiastic about photojournalism, as she believes that photos can truly make a writing piece come to life, and even provide a new perspective that was not otherwise included. Outside of school, Sophia enjoys skiing, traveling around the world, sightseeing, and creative writing. She also has a deep passion for learning about current events related to politics, particularly international relations. As a result, she relishes the ability to spread information regarding these events through journalism, as well as through spoken word. She is ultimately fascinated by foreign policy and thus plans to study international relations in college.