China primed for huge tech lead over US in 'wake-up call' for West
China is racing ahead of Western democracies in the race for future technological dominance, a new report has found.
Researchers from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said their findings, which handed China a lead over the US in all but a handful of areas likely to be key for future growth, innovation and military power, should be a "wake-up call for democratic nations".
ASPI's Critical Technology Tracker ranks countries across 44 different technologies in a range of areas from defence and advanced materials through to biotechnology and artificial intelligence.
The US leads in just seven of the categories, including vaccines, high performance computing and space launch systems.
But China leads across the other 37 categories and is at "high" risk of developing a monopoly in areas as important as hydrogen power, electric batteries and advanced aircraft engines.
"Western democracies are losing the global technological competition, including the race for scientific and research breakthroughs, and the ability to retain global talent—crucial ingredients that underpin the development and control of the world's most important technologies, including those that don't yet exist," the report's authors write.
"Our research reveals that China has built the foundations to position itself as the world's leading science and technology superpower, by establishing a sometimes stunning lead in high-impact research across the majority of critical and emerging technology domains."
ASPI analyst Jamie Gaida told 9News the results were "striking".
"These findings should be a wake-up call for democratic nations, who must rapidly pursue a strategic critical technology step-up," the report authors wrote.
"Governments around the world should work both collaboratively and individually to catch up to China and, more broadly, they must pay greater attention to the world's centre of technological innovation and strategic competition: the Indo-Pacific.
"While China is in front, it's important for democracies to take stock of the power of their potential aggregate lead and the collective strengths of regions and groupings (for example the EU, the Quad and AUKUS, to name just a few examples)."
China's lead is helped by a surge of Western-educated talent coming into or returning to the country; one in five "high-impact" research authors did their postgraduate studies in a Five-Eyes country, according to ASPI.
The gap from the US and China to a so-called second-tier of nations including the United Kingdom, India, South Korea, Germany and Australia is stark.
Australia ranks in the top five for nine of the technologies, leading Gaida to note "we punch above our weight".
The report makes 23 recommendations, including a push for Australia to focus on its strengths and make the most of its huge lithium reserves and solar panel prowess to focus on electric batteries and critical minerals.
The Albanese government is hoping to seize that opportunity through the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.
"It's not just about economic security, it's about national security as well," Industry, Science and Technology Minister Ed Husic said.
"It'll create great jobs. It'll help us reduce emissions."
Australia should also quickly combine with other democracies such as the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan just to compete, the report recommends, calling for the construction of a dedicated technology analysis centre focusing purely on China.
Democracies should also look at technology visas, changes to the university and tax system to incentivise new technologies and creating sovereign wealth funds dedicating 0.5 to 0.7 percent of gross national income to venture capital, research and scale-up funding.