A titanic struggle is underway between America and China. At its heart is a battle for technological supremacy.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has called China “the greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality.” He has spoken about how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) believes it is in a generational fight to surpass the United States in technological leadership.
For 20 years, China, led by its flagship firm Huawei, has sought dominance in the global telecom equipment sector. Along the way, it has engaged in a variety of dubious tactics to acquire technology and undermine its competitors.
For example, in 2019, federal prosecutors launched a criminal probe into the Chinese company for allegedly stealing trade secrets from U.S. business partners. Then, in October 2022, the Department of Justice said two Chinese intelligence officers attempted to bribe a U.S. law enforcement official with the hope of obtaining insider information about the U.S. criminal case against Huawei.
Those events are but the latest examples of an essential truism: If America is to secure its future, it must control its own technological destiny. This means that it no longer can outsource its technological development to countries that increasingly appear to be adversaries. Instead, it must rebuild its domestic innovation and production base.
While Silicon Valley and Boston remain the envy of the global technology world, America is also fortunate that this need for a national response has come to the fore just as technological centers in what Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger calls the “Silicon Heartland” are reaching prominence. Gelsinger’s firm recently put this concept to work by investing $20 billion in a chip manufacturing facility in Columbus, Ohio.
Another town emerging as a potential technology hub is Syracuse, N.Y., where Boise, Idaho-based Micron has announced a $100 billion investment in a mega-chip facility — the largest single investment in the state’s history. JMA Wireless, a company that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the “Antidote to Huawei,” last year opened the only U.S.-owned 5G manufacturing campus in the country, also near Syracuse.
Some smaller centers are seeing tech growth as well. For example, Submittable, a Missoula, Mont.-based software company, recently raised $47 million in Series C Funding and now has 90 employees in town.
Traditional industrial centers such as Detroit and Chicago are also benefiting from the spread of tech centers around the country. The Detroit-based automakers are investing billions of dollars in new technologies that will guide the path to electric vehicles, and Chicago pulled in $7 billion in venture capital funding last year.
The renaissance of America through technology is a welcome sign on many levels. Among these is that the United States is more likely to be successful in its technology competition with China if it has the whole country pulling in the same direction.
Arguably, the most important set of capabilities in the years ahead are rooted in communications technologies. The ability to disseminate and apply these tools depends on the quality and robustness of network infrastructure.
At present, the United States is building out its fifth-generation, or 5G, telecommunications infrastructure. The improvement in speed, latency and reliability in moving from 4G to 5G is so immense it can be difficult to comprehend, and technology companies have only just begun figuring out ways to take advantage of this improvement.
JMA Wireless CEO John Mezzalingua recently laid out the high stakes of winning the 5G race. “5G will become the central nervous system that connects and controls all other infrastructure,” he said. “The free world will depend on it — our homes, schools, jobs, water systems, electrical grids, transportation networks, manufacturing, and military. It’s a strategic asset that America must own.”
Banning Huawei in the U.S. market was a great first step, but we must continue to invest in domestic options and innovate at home. To support the rebuilding of America’s technology base — including its telecommunications equipment sector — robust public policy must link with talent, infrastructure and, of course, entrepreneurship. America’s national and economic security depend on it.
Eric Miller is a global fellow at the Wilson Center and president of Rideau Potomac Strategy Group. Follow him on Twitter @ericmiller191.