The trade dispute between China and the United States continues to make headlines, with China retaliating with new tariffs. The tensions result in part from concerns over unfair trade practices and theft of U.S. intellectual property.
I. Rafael Reif, president of MIT, believes these concerns should be addressed through expert, decisive action. “But it would be a mistake to think that an aggressive defense alone will somehow prevent China’s technological success—or ensure America’s own,” he writes in The New York Times.
He adds that China is not an also ran that mainly copies others’ ideas. “The country is advancing aggressively to assert technological supremacy in critical fields of science and technology,” he says.
He cites several examples:
- China’s Alibaba is battling Google for quantum supremacy.
- China’s Huawei leads in 5G, spending two-and-a-half times as much on R&D as Nokia and Ericsson.
- The Chinese-designed and -built Fuxing bullet train is the world’s fastest in regular operation.
- China is moving forward with its Made in China 2025 strategy to become a world leader in manufacturing.
Reif adds that China is a leader in mobile payment and facial and spoken-language recognition and is making bold investments in biotechnology and space.
“In short,” he writes, “stopping intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices—even if fully effective—would not allow the United States to relax back into a position of unquestioned innovation leadership.”
Reif recommends a stable, targeted multiyear funding strategy for AI; university-government partnerships as mechanisms to promote early-stage research; and initiatives to develop home-grown talent and welcome talent from abroad.
“As a nation, the United States needs to change its focus from merely reacting to China’s actions to building a farsighted national strategy for sustaining American leadership in science and innovation,” he writes. “If all we do in response to China’s ambition is to try to double-lock all our doors, I believe we will lock ourselves into mediocrity.”