In an op-ed piece published today in The New York Times, MIT President L. Rafael Reif urges a more farsighted response to address China’s attempts to dominate cutting-edge technologies, which have included tactics such as industrial espionage and theft of intellectual property.
While strong and decisive action against such practices is essential, Reif writes, it is not enough. “[I]t would be a mistake to think that an aggressive defense alone will somehow prevent China’s technological success — or ensure America’s own,” he says.
Rather, the most important action the U.S. can take to protect its global leadership role is to redouble its core strength in innovation, starting with ground-breaking federally funded research.
China has begun to do just that, in a concerted national effort, including a project called “Made in China 2025” that aims to achieve global dominance in several key areas of technology and manufacturing. Because of these ambitious initiatives by the Chinese government, Reif writes, “stopping intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices — even if fully effective — would not allow the United States to relax back into a position of unquestioned innovation leadership.”
Reif adds that “Unless America responds urgently and deliberately to the scale and intensity of this challenge, we should expect that, in fields from personal communications to business, health, and security, China is likely to become the world’s most advanced technological nation and the source of the most advanced technological products in not much more than a decade.”
However, he emphasizes that this outcome is far from inevitable. The most effective countermeasure is to harness the power of federally funded research at American universities, “rooted in a national culture of opportunity and entrepreneurship, inspired by an atmosphere of intellectual freedom, supported by the rule of law and, crucially, pushed to new creative heights by uniting brilliant talent from every sector of our society and every corner of the world.”
Reif concludes that “As a nation, the United States needs to change its focus from merely reacting to China’s actions to building a farsighted national strategy for sustaining American leadership in science and innovation.”