China should be a “global leader in innovation” by 2035, President Xi Jinping declared during the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress last October. His remarks reflected a core strategic ambition: After decades of reliance upon foreign technology, Xi’s China aspires not only to catch up with the West’s technological development but to surpass it—through a national strategy for “innovation-driven” development.
China’s trajectory in quantum science—which leverages principles of quantum mechanics to create disruptive, perhaps transformative technologies—will be a key test of Xi’s ambitions. Beijing is striving to become a world leader in quantum technology through large-scale state-guided investments, which may total tens of billions of dollars in the years to come. Under its 13th five-year plan, introduced in 2016, China has launched a “megaproject” for quantum communications and computing, which aims to achieve major breakthroughs in these technologies by 2030, including the expansion of China’s national quantum communications infrastructure, the development of a general quantum computer prototype, and the construction of a practical quantum simulator. China is also building the National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences, which, with over $1 billion in initial funding, could emerge as a key center of gravity for future research and development.
Will China succeed in its plans to pioneer advances in quantum technology? Similar state-guided investment projects have produced mixed results in recent years—China has apparently achieved some successes in the development of hypersonic weapons, yet seen only limited progress in semiconductors. Nonetheless, under Xi, China is clearly willing to place big bets on disruptive technologies. And although such gambles are risky, the potential payoff is enormous: if successful, China’s quest for leadership in quantum science may help to tilt the balance of power between Beijing and Washington.
The advent of quantum technology promises major leaps forward in a number of important fieds. Take computing: whereas classical computers rely on bits—encoded as either a zero or a one—quantum computers work with qubits, which use the
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