China Leapfrogs U.S. in Critical Strategic Technology

The year's most important news story probably never made it into your news feed. Nonetheless it might change your life forever. For the first time, China has demonstrated that it is far ahead of the United States in a critical new technology, namely quantum communications. A Chinese satellite succeeded in transmitting so-called entangled photons to earth stations. That's the high-tech equivalent of sending a message in undeveloped photographic film: If you try to read it, the light will destroy it. The Chinese breakthrough has huge implications for cryptography, and for a host of other applications.

The tortoise just overtook the hare. We haven't woken up from a decades-long nap, and we're at serious risk of losing the race. If we do lose, there will be a name for an American who works for a Chinese: "Employed." This is not a drill. This is the real thing.

Chris Scott wrote Friday in Asia Times:

On Thursday, a team of Chinese scientists released findings from a breakthrough study that makes China the indisputable leader in the field of quantum communication, an achievement that could be of immense strategic importance.

The study, led by Pan Jianwei and published in Science magazine, successfully demonstrated the ability to distribute entangled photons across unprecedented distances, from space to earth, opening the door for the practical application of cutting-edge, ultra-secure communication....

Encryption methods used today are nearly, but not completely, impossible to hack, but with more advanced computing power the forms of encoding that protect information sent online will become more and more vulnerable. Quantum key distribution, however, is unique in that any measurement of the transmission by an eavesdropper disturbs the transmission, thereby alerting the parties sending information.

So much for the mantra, "The Chinese steal technology but don't know how to innovate." Anyone who has seen China's tech boom up close knows how dumb this view is. Books with titles like "The Coming Collapse of China" are now in their dozenth edition, while China is surging ahead in key areas of technology. China now graduates 1.3 million STEM students from its universities each year, vs. 300,000 in the US. How good are they? As Prof. Graham Allison reports in his new book The Thucydides Trap:

According to the most recent Stanford University comparison of students entering college in the fields of engineering and computer science, Chinese high school graduates arrive with a three-year advantage over their American counterparts in critical-thinking skills. In 2015, Tsinghua University passed MIT in the U.S. News & World Report rankings to become the number-one university in the world for engineering. Among the top ten schools of engineering, China and the US each had four.

China has the world's fast supercomputers built entirely out of Chinese components. It has the world's largest radio telescope. It has thousands of surface-to-ship missiles that can hail down on American aircraft carriers from the stratosphere, and it has ultra-quiet diesel electric submarines that can lurk on battery power for weeks. It has satellite killer missiles. China might spend barely over $1,000 to equip foot soldiers, about 1/100th of what America spends, but it has invested massively in high-tech defense.