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Former CIA Director Warns US Not Keeping Up With China In Tech

The U.S. government is currently considering legislation to increase semiconductor chip production in the country and support other technologies that are critical for China’s competition. The legislation was passed by the Senate in the early summer but has not been approved by the House.

Leon Panetta, ex-Secretary of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency director, said that the U.S. has not invested in technology, which is a serious national security risk. There is no time to waste. Panetta stated that “we’re not in an advantageous position” at the CNBC Technology Executive Board Summit. To at least be competitive with China, we need to invest more in technology.

Here are some key thoughts by Panetta about the China rivalry. He says that China is entering a period where there is so much competition that war is possible. This is something he is concerned about because it involves both foreign policy engagement and the development of technological deterrents.

The Biden-Xi summit wasn’t a total bust

Panetta stated to members of CNBC Technology Executive Council, “There is no doubt about the fierce competition between the U.S.A. and China in many areas and increasing tensions.”

Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, has stated that the U.S. is falling and that China must take its place in the world. He did this through technology investments and military operations. Panetta also said that China is succeeding so far.

“The U.S. has been through a period where we have not been as competitive as we should have been,” he said. “So we’re behind the curve a little bit at this point and with tensions in Taiwan and in the South China Sea, there are growing concerns that there could be a conflict.”

Panetta believes that the virtual meeting between President Biden (the President) and President Xi, this week, should be considered a modest success, even if it did not result in tangible achievements. “I am glad that both sides recognized the rationale behind trying to deescalate. He said that it was important to have a dialog, to manage the strategic competition. The best thing to do right now is for both sides to learn how to manage the strategic competition.”

“There is no question, in my experience, that if you can have two leaders communicate with one another and be able to talk with one and other that is a step in the right direction. Almost everything in politics and foreign policy is based on human relationships,” the former Defense Secretary said, who noted he hosted Biden and Xi at the Pentagon when the Chinese leader visited during the Obama administration.

He said that the competition will continue and that “the worst tensions” won’t end. However, he stated that if the countries have a dialogue, it decreases the possibility of an accident that could lead both to war and that is crucial at this time.

Technology investments are strategic deterrents

The U.S. must invest in technology to reduce the risk of conflict and competition. Panetta states that the U.S. is not as competitive as China because of a lack of investment.

“China has invested a tremendous amount in AI, quantum computing, robotics and cyber and their intent is to try to jump ahead of the U.S. and the rest of the world with these technologies. The U.S. has not kept up and I think it is really important for our defense establishment to invest in new technologies and increase our ability to compete,” he said.

“Frankly, the key right now for the U.S. in dealing with China is to develop deterrents, the ability to show China that we are strengthening our position with regards to the ability to respond to anything China can do,” Panetta added.

Breaking up Big Tech will not help

Panetta believes that the competitive issues can be solved, but only if political pressure is placed on dismantling large technology companies.

Panetta is a member of Oracle’s board of directors and oversees the Panetta Institute of Public Policy in Monterey Bay. He said that the United States has a lot of technology companies and these companies are strong competitors. They have to deal with privacy and free speech concerns, but it is crucial for the government to form partnerships with these companies and to “walk in the same direction”.

“I am in California. I am on the board of a technology company in Silicon Valley and I have seen firsthand the ability of these companies to be innovative and creative and ahead of the game. We have to develop a partnership between government and the private sector in order to make sure we are working together to increase the capabilities,” he said. 

“If we undermine these companies, we will be hurting our ability to compete. It’s that simple,” he added. 

The biggest national security threat is at home

Panetta believes that the greatest threat to national security, besides rivalry with China, is Washington’s dysfunctional government.

Panetta states that there are certain weapons systems and technology projects which need to be addressed in the State Department and Defense and Intelligence agencies. However, at a fundamental level, bipartisan cooperation is essential to address the challenge from China.

Panetta said that the politics of the moment and the partisan gridlock in D.C., which has gotten worse over the years, are a national security concern. “Both parties have to learn how to work together. That is what I believe is the most important thing to do right now.

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