The Geopolitical Stakes of the U.S.-China AI Race: Military Strategy, Technology, and Global Power Dynamics

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The U.S.-China AI race is intensifying, with significant implications for military strategy and global power dynamics. China aims to lead in AI by 2030, focusing on military applications, while the U.S. is fighting back by limiting AI chip sales to China and working with private companies.

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to revolutionize various sectors, its impact on global politics and military strategy is becoming increasingly significant. The U.S. and China, two superpowers, each have their own set of ambitions and strategies in this tech race.

This article looks at China’s aggressive push to lead in AI by 2030, what the U.S. is doing to keep up, and how private companies like ScaleAI are shaping the future of military AI.

China’s Ambitions and Strategies

In the global race for AI leadership, China has big plans. Aiming to beat the West by 2030, the nation is investing heavily in  AI, especially for military applications.

This section looks at how China is combining efforts from both its military and civilian sectors to become a major player in the industry.

China Aims to Lead in AI by 2030

A report released by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD, 2023) outlines that China aims to surpass the West in AI research by 2025 and become the global leader in AI by 2030. AI is a top national priority for China, especially for its military strategy, known as “intelligentized warfare.”

According to the report, Beijing is merging military and civilian efforts to boost its AI capabilities. It has set up research centers that bring together military and civilian experts and is buying up advanced AI and robotic tech to give its army, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the latest tools.

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Chinese scientists have established dominance in particular AI domains, such as facial recognition and natural language processing (NLP), while also progressing in the manufacture and distribution of domestically designed AI chips.

Despite ongoing dependence on foreign technology for AI hardware production, the country is actively exploring innovative materials and designs to advance future tech products.

China’s Military Focus on AI

According to the report, China sees AI as crucial for modern warfare. China’s focus on “intelligentized warfare” marks a shift in military strategy, emphasizing the use of AI in all aspects of conflict. This includes everything from planning to actual operations.

The PLA is delving into AI applications for missile guidance and target identification, alongside exploring innovative military strategies incorporating the tech, such as the deployment of intelligent swarms.

“The PLA is pursuing next-generation combat capabilities based on its vision of future conflict, which it calls “intelligentized warfare,” defined by the expanded use of AI and other advanced technologies at every level of warfare.”

China’s Ministry of National Defense’s Response

It is worth noting that China’s Ministry of National Defense responded to the U.S. document about China’s military plans, but it didn’t address AI.

The spokesman for the Ministry, Wu Qian, criticized the report for distorting China’s national defense policy and military strategy. He argued that the report exaggerated and sensationalized a non-existent “Chinese military threat” and made speculative claims about “China’s military advancements in domains like nuclear capabilities, space, and cyberspace.”

China’s omission of AI in its response to the U.S. report prompts questions about the accuracy of U.S. claims and suggests a potential understatement of “intelligentized warfare,” casting ambiguity over China’s AI capabilities and intentions.

U.S.-China Relations in the AI and Military Technology Race

The rise of AI as a critical technology is causing tension between world leaders, as seen in the U.S. DoD report.

The U.S. and China, two superpowers when it comes to AI development, are finding it hard to get along, especially with regard to military and tech issues.

Below, we examine the strained communications between the two nations, particularly in the realms of military and technology, and how this tension is shaping the future of AI.

U.S. Struggles to Engage with China on Military and Tech Issues

According to the report, the U.S. has attempted to engage China in discussions regarding military and technology matters, but these efforts have been largely unheeded or rejected. This absence of dialogue could heighten the risk of misunderstandings, potentially escalating to conflict.

In fact, even after the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff extended congratulatory messages to newly appointed Chinese military officials, establishing direct communication has proven challenging for the U.S. Numerous attempts through calls and meeting proposals have been either neglected or outright rejected by China.

“As of June 2023, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) declined two Secretary of Defense Direct Telephone Line call requests to General Wei Fenghe. The PRC ignored INDOPACOM (United States Indo-Pacific Command) Commander Direct Telephone Line call requests to the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) STC (Strategic Support Force), Northern Theater Command (NTC), and Eastern Theater Command (ETC) commanders. The PRC similarly ignored Department of Defense requests to hold recurring exchanges including DPCTs (Defense Policy Coordination Talks), MMCA (Military Maritime Consultative Agreement) talks, and CCWG (China Coordination Working Group). The PRC defense attaché in the United States refused multiple invitations to engage with the DASD (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense) for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia.”

U.S. Tightens AI Chip Exports to China, Adds New Layer to AI Race

In the midst of these communication challenges, the U.S. is taking additional steps to limit China’s access to key AI technologies. The U.S. Department of Commerce recently announced plans to further restrict the sale of advanced AI chips to China, targeting specific chips like Nvidia’s A800 and H800.

According to a CNBC report, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said these new regulations aim to stop China from getting advanced chips that could help them make big leaps in AI, especially for military use.

“The updates are specifically designed to control access to computing power, which will significantly slow the People’s Republic of China’s development of next-generation frontier model, and could be leveraged in ways that threaten the U.S. and our allies, especially because they could be used for military uses and modernization.”

This move adds another layer of complexity to the already strained U.S.-China relations. It comes after last year’s restrictions were circumvented by Chinese companies.

Last year, the U.S. stopped the sale of a popular chip called Nvidia H100. However, Chinese companies found a way around this by buying a slower version of the chip, called H800 or A800.

The new rules will now also ban the sale of these slower chips.

Private Sector Steps Up

Meanwhile, companies like ScaleAI are helping keep the U.S. ahead in the AI race.

ScaleAI recently secured a contract from the Department of Defense’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office (CDAO). This new contract will help take AI projects from the testing phase to actual use by soldiers on the front lines.

Last year, ScaleAI had already begun its collaboration with the U.S. military when it landed a $249 million deal to assist the DoD with various AI tools. One such tool was a chatbot named “Donovan,” designed to help military leaders make quick decisions.

A demo of Donovan shows it identifying a suspicious Chinese ship near Taiwan and suggesting ways to investigate it, such as dispatching a plane or pulling recent satellite imagery. Once images are available, the bot can detect high radiation levels, leading officers to send a drone for a closer look.

The Future Stakes of the U.S.-China AI Race

The fight to be the best in AI isn’t just about technology. It’s also about national security, military strategy, and international relations.

The U.S. is being careful about what AI tech it sells to China and is getting help from private companies like ScaleAI to stay ahead. On the other hand, China is investing heavily in AI, especially for its military, as it wants to become a global leader in the field by 2030.

What both countries do next will not only shape the future of AI but could redefine global power dynamics.

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Maria Webb
Technology Journalist
Maria Webb
Technology Journalist

Maria is a technology journalist with over five years of experience with a deep interest in AI and machine learning. She excels in data-driven journalism, making complex topics both accessible and engaging for her audience. Her work is prominently featured on Techopedia, Business2Community, and Eurostat, where she provides creative technical writing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours in English and a Master of Science in Strategic Management and Digital Marketing from the University of Malta. Maria's background includes journalism for Newsbook.com.mt, covering a range of topics from local events to international tech trends.