New Delhi: China is far ahead of even the United States in conducting cutting-edge research in most critical technologies, especially in defence, space and security, a new report by a top Australian think tank has found.
In the report published on March 2, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute shows 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”.
The report was based on analysis of the top 10% of the most highly-cited research publications released between 2018 and 2022 in 44 technologies, ranging from artificial intelligence to advanced robotics and quantum computing.
After China and US, India and UK lead the smaller group, which also includes South Korea, Germany, Australia, Italy and Japan.
Raising alarm signals about Chinese dominance in 37 sectors, the Australian think-tank pointed out that it meant that “only seven of the 44 analysed technologies are currently led by a democratic country, and that country in all instances is the US”. It noted that China was often producing more than five times high-impact research than the United States.
In the strategic sectors related to security and defence, the report asserted, China has a “striking lead” in research on advanced aircraft engines, future intelligence capability, Artificial Intelligence and drones.
Over the last five years, China has had a 48% share in the most highly-cited research on Advanced Aircraft Engines, including hypersonics and surveillance balloons.
China’s test of a hypersonic missile in 2021 summer, which became public only several months later, led to much breast-beating in certain US strategic circles that Washington had lost the lead.
With cyber espionage and attacks being the norm, China also has the advantage against the west as it accounts for nearly one-third of high-impact research papers in post-quantum cryptography used for securing online communication.
In the area of Advanced radiofrequency communications, including 5G and 6G, there is a high risk of China having a monopoly in research.
As per the ASPI’s Critical Technology Tracker, the US has maintained its strength in the design and development of advanced semiconductor devices, high-performance computing, advanced integrated circuit design and fabrication, quantum computing, and vaccines and medical countermeasures.
As mentioned earlier, India has a relatively respectable showing in five critical technology sectors. India comes second after China in publishing the top 10% high-impact research in the sectors of high-specification machining process, advanced composite materials, smart materials, biofuels and biological manufacturing.
The smallest gap between China and India in research is in biofuels, with the former accounting for 23.2%. The latter came second at 15.5%.
At the same time, India may be second to China on the list but the gulf between the two is yawning. For example, India is second with 8.1% of the top 10% of most-cited research publications on smart materials whose application could include body armour and building materials. However, China was way ahead with 42.6%.
Besides, the ASPI report also looked at the flow of researchers between countries at various levels to identify brain gains and brain drains in each technology area.
“India has a significant brain drain in AI algorithms and hardware accelerators, as many people opt to do their postgraduate training in the US, Singapore and Europe, but the brain drain in machine learning is significantly less, as India retains most of its postgraduate trained talent through employment,” said the report.
Stating that the findings should be a “wake-up call for democratic nations”, the report recommended a number of policies ranging from technology visas to research and development grants between allies, as well as, revitalising universities and restructuring the taxation system.