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China “Ahead in Quantum” Despite Funding Blocks

US think tank flags military applications for quantum technology as China’s research spend grows

Berenice Baker, Editor, Enter Quantum

February 20, 2024

2 Min Read
Chinese flags outside a building
The Center for Strategic & International Studies says China has leapfrogged the U.S. in quantum investment.Getty

According to a U.S. think tank, the U.S. risks falling behind China in quantum technology advancements despite moves to block access to funding such as the CHIPS and Science Act.

Quantum technologies are widely acknowledged as presenting both a strategic opportunity and a threat. As it matures, quantum computing could enable access to sensitive encrypted data. Other quantum technologies are used in military and national security applications including sensing and navigation.

The U.S. first imposed sanctions to limit China's access to advanced semiconductor tools and AI processors in 2020. The CHIPS Act was then signed into law in August 2022, awarding $39 billion in funding for domestic semiconductor manufacturing while setting “guardrails” preventing recipients from investing in “countries of concern,” including China and Russia.

The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) report, Optimizing Export Controls for Critical and Emerging Technologies, said that the legislation also covertly aimed to prevent China from getting ahead in quantum technology.

“This policy, though minor, could be an indication of the department’s future desire to prevent quantum technology inputs from reaching China in a way that mirrors semiconductor export controls,” the report says.

Related:US Eyes China Quantum Tech Export Controls

The authors point out that China has made $15.3 billion worth of public investments in related research, compared with $3.7 billion by the U.S. China also has ready access to the raw materials used in quantum technologies and low-priced components.

China has seen major technology companies Baidu and Alibaba step down from quantum research, donating their equipment to government research institutions.

In January, Origin Quantum Computing Technology reported that the majority of its overseas users were based in the U.S.

Industry analysis backs this observation. In 2022, research and analysis company GlobalData said China was five years behind the U.S. in quantum technologies. Its latest Quantum Computing In Defense report says: “China has made enormous strides in catching up with the US. In 2024, the two countries stand almost neck-and-neck, albeit with very different strategies. Private companies lead the way in the US, while in China, expertise is increasingly concentrated within state institutions. “

The CSIS report added that technologies like quantum and AI are “rapidly changing the nature of warfare and can help foreign adversaries enhance their military capabilities more rapidly.” It adds that the burden is on legislators to make faster judgments while considering the civilian economy.

President Xi Jinping first stressed the strategic value of quantum technologies to the nation’s economy as early as 2020. In January 2024, Chinese authorities released a statement saying the nation would be supporting technological innovations in a range of emerging fields, including quantum computing. Chinese technology governing bodies came together to issue the guidelines, saying the new push would help China establish itself at the forefront of “the industries of the future.”

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About the Author(s)

Berenice Baker

Editor, Enter Quantum

Berenice is the editor of Enter Quantum, the companion website and exclusive content outlet for The Quantum Computing Summit. Enter Quantum informs quantum computing decision-makers and solutions creators with timely information, business applications and best practice to enable them to adopt the most effective quantum computing solution for their businesses. Berenice has a background in IT and 16 years’ experience as a technology journalist.

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