June 14, 2018

New Frontiers of Chinese Defense Innovation: Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Technologies

By Elsa B. Kania

Will the Chinese military succeed in advancing new frontiers of defense innovation? China has already emerged as a powerhouse in artificial intelligence and quantum technologies. The continued advances in these dual-use technologies may be leveraged for military applications pursuant to a national strategy of military-civil fusion. At this point, the trajectory of technological developments is uncertain, and considerable challenges remain to the actualization of deeper fusion of China’s defense and commercial sectors. However, if successful, China’s ambitions to lead in these strategic technologies could enable it to pioneer new paradigms of military power.

US–China strategic competition is intensifying at a time when a range of emerging technologies are poised to change the character of future conflict, perhaps even disrupting the current military balance. The recent trajectory of Chinese military modernization has enabled the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to achieve rapid advances and become a near-peer competitor to the United States. Increasingly, the PLA is not only seeking to catch up, but instead also competing in new frontiers of military power, even looking to leap ahead of the United States in future military competition. Xi Jinping has called for the advancement of military innovation, declaring that the PLA will emerge as a, perhaps even the, “world-class” (世界一流) military by mid-century. Chinese leaders recognize that the pursuit of innovation in strategic technologies, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), is critical to achieve future competitive advantage.


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