Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

The U.S. Wants to Make Sure China Can’t Catch Up on Quantum Computing

| Mar. 31, 2023

Washington is likely to impose new controls in the race for a key technology.

In January, the Netherlands and Japan—the leading suppliers of semiconductor production equipment—agreed in principle to implement the United States’ October 2022 semiconductor export controls on China, stonewalling China’s development of advanced semiconductors. While the details of the trilateral agreement remain murky, restrictions on the sale of AI chips and advanced machine tools to China will significantly impede China’s drive for high-tech self-sufficiency.

But these restrictions are just the opening salvos in a series of unprecedented export controls on China planned by the Biden administration. After controls on semiconductors, the Commerce Department is moving on to the next emerging technology it worries China could weaponize: quantum computing. Export controls on quantum computing hardware, error correction software, and the provision of cloud services to Chinese entities are poised to become the next front in the U.S.-China tech war.

Quantum computing is a relatively new technology that uses the unique properties of quantum physics to build extremely powerful computers whose processing power comes from subatomic particles. Quantum computers could theoretically have much more computational power than today’s “classical” computers, allowing them to tackle problems that are currently impossible, such as breaking advanced encryption. However, the field is still in its infancy and current quantum computers are error prone and lack any real applications.

Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez said last year that he would “put down money” on the United States enacting additional export controls related to quantum computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and biotechnology. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo doubled down on Estevez’s bet in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, saying that the United States would “bolster [its] system of export controls” and “take action to protect [its] advantage” over China with respect to quantum information science, semiconductors, AI, biotechnology, and clean energy technologies.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan laid out this policy in September 2022, arguing “computing-related technologies, biotech, and clean tech are truly force multipliers” and stating that United States would impose export controls in order to “maintain as large of a lead as possible” ahead of rivals such as China. In other words, because technologies like quantum computing have the capacity to provide China with military and economic advantages, whether through new cyberweapons or faster drug discovery, the United States plans to enact sweeping unilateral export controls on China.

Policymakers in Washington are determined to maintain the United States’ lead in quantum computing because of its potential military applications. Researchers have warned that a potent quantum computer could thwart existing encryption schemes, leading U.S. President Joe Biden to issue a national security memorandum requiring federal agencies to shift to post-quantum cryptography by 2035.

  – Via Foreign Policy.

About This Analysis & Opinions

The U.S. Wants to Make Sure China Can’t Catch Up on Quantum Computing
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Klyman, Kevin.“The U.S. Wants to Make Sure China Can’t Catch Up on Quantum Computing.” Foreign Policy, March 31, 2023.

The Author