June 1, 2005    Volume 12, No. 11

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Defense Analyst Says U.S. Has No Ability To Assess China's Breakthroughs In Science And Technology



BY RICHARD McCORMACK


China has become a science and technology powerhouse and the U.S. government has no ability to assess its capabilities and potential impact on the U.S. economy, according to a report produced for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission by Dr. Michael Pillsbury, a long-time and well known strategic analyst at the Department of Defense.

China's "remarkable achievements" in a wide range of scientific fields and technologies have not been factored into U.S. policy, says Pillsbury in a study entitled "China's Progress in Technological Competitiveness: The Need for a New Assessment."

The last time the U.S. government assessed China's technological capabilities was in 1999 by the National Science Foundation. That analysis was "biased toward a slow and backward China, said to be facing daunting challenges with little hope of S&T breakthroughs," writes Pillsbury.

But the situation has changed dramatically, and China's progress is being closely monitored by the South Koreans whose own indicators "predict that China will soon be [a] major global S&T competitor," says the report.

The U.S. government is oblivious. For instance, there is no mention of China's rate of progress in science and technology in the National Science Foundation's annual budget request nor when Congress is appropriating funds for research and development.

"At least we cannot accuse the NSF of inflating the threat from foreign S&T in order to save their own declining budget," writes Pillsbury. "Other reports on measures to improve U.S. competitiveness -- in taxes, science education, basic research, defense technology -- rarely raise any concerns about a challenge from China's S&T competitiveness..."

An "old paradigm" that propagates the myth that China is backward, is plagued by rural poverty and is faced with overwhelming obstacles continues to dominate in the debate over the economic health of the United States. This misunderstanding "closes off any policy discussion of what to do about a surprisingly competitive China S&T export economy," writes Pillsbury. "Without a new assessment, U.S. policymakers will likely be further surprised in the decade ahead as China gradually surpasses the U.S. in technology exports....The policy deliberations about China by both Congress and the Executive Branch have been disadvantaged by mistaken predictions."

Pillsbury describes in detail the "great strides" China is making in science and technology. "In the past few months [during 2005], China has announced a new supercomputer that operates at 11 trillion calculations per second; breakthroughs in nanotechnology; manufacture of immunochips to detect staph infection; operation of a mini-space satellite; plans to launch another 100 satellites beyond the 70 already launched; a state-of-the-art new pebble-bed nuclear reactor technology; plans to build 40 nuclear reactors; a Chinese-designed Pentium-style computer chip; a doubling of factory production of robots; design of a new satellite launch vehicle capable of orbiting 25 tons; successful use of cloning cell technology to produce a buffalo; opening of semiconductor design centers; progress by the Institute of High Energy Physics on an electron positron collider; support of a superconducting collider in Germany; partnering with the EU to enable the Galileo global positioning system; and a state-of-the-art planned astronomical observation program," he notes. "Few if any of these developments would have been forecast a decade ago under the influence of the old paradigm."

A new assessment of China's technological progress needs to be undertaken immediately. Up-to-date assessments of China's progress "would aid congressional deliberations in three areas: whether to adopt a range of proposals to improve U.S. competitiveness; whether to consider measures to restrict China's access to advance technology; and whether earlier predictive errors can be corrected," writes Pillsbury.

The 158-page report is located at http://www.uscc.gov.


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