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U.S. Aims To Stall China's Efforts To Be The Global Leader In The Race For 5G


The Trump administration is expected to clamp down on China's efforts to steal sensitive information from U.S. companies and from the government. U.S. officials say, in particular, there has been this increase in Chinese hacking of intellectual property for advanced technology, things such as robotics and self-driving cars. Here's more from NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: China has been unambiguous about its plan to become a world leader in advanced technologies by 2025.

ROB ATKINSON: China is a developing country, and they don't want to be a developing country. They want to be the world's most advanced technology country.

NORTHAM: Rob Atkinson is the president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. He says China wants to have capabilities for every single advanced technology being developed.

ATKINSON: Robots, artificial intelligence, advanced 5G telecommunications networks, biotechnology. You name it, the Chinese want it.

NORTHAM: There's an international race for advanced technology, especially 5G, or fifth-generation networks. Not only will it make our smartphones incredibly faster, it will connect just about everything to an instantaneously responsive network. 5G will change how vehicles operate, how factories are run, how surgery is performed. There's an economic advantage for whatever country develops the 5G network first, worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

DAVID EDELMAN: The economic advantage of being a first mover is huge.

NORTHAM: David Edelman heads a research project at MIT on technology, economics and national security. He says the infrastructure surrounding a 5G network will be huge, including new products, hardware and services.

EDELMAN: Every service that runs on mobile data, every Internet company that uses mobile phones, every news outlet that is depending on digital delivery, that's where the broad economic gains come.

NORTHAM: 5G will also give a country a national security edge, says William Carter, a technology specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

WILLIAM CARTER: It gives them a lot of diplomatic leverage in, particularly, the developing world, but it also has significant security benefits. So having a presence in the Internet backbone in the 5G network in other countries is a incredibly valuable tool for intelligence gathering and understanding what's happening on the ground around the world.

NORTHAM: Not surprisingly, the race for 5G supremacy is fierce. The U.S. is the leader in advanced technology - think Silicon Valley. China falls behind, but companies such as Huawei, which some believe has ties to the Chinese government, are quickly developing 5G technology. ITIF's Atkinson wonders how they were able to do it this quickly.

ATKINSON: They can't get it in any reasonable period of time without stealing the technology or forcing foreign companies to give them the technology because it just takes a long time for a country that's way behind on technology to catch up in a normal way.

NORTHAM: The Trump administration, worried about intelligence breaches, has banned U.S. companies from using Huawei equipment for the 5G network and has been warning allies to do the same. Charles Freeman is senior vice president for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

CHARLES FREEMAN: I think the U.S. government has decided that, you know, we just can't have the Chinese government to have that easy an access into our telecom systems. And I think other countries have made the same sort of calculation.

NORTHAM: Still, it's unlikely the administration's move will slow down China's efforts to be the global leader in the race for 5G. Jackie Northam, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "OUTLIER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, politics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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