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China is Investing More in Science and Technology Than Ever Before. Here’s Why That’s a Problem.

May 1, 2024

Without increased federal investment, the U.S. risks ceding leadership in this critical area.

As China boldly charges forward with massive funding increases for research and development, the United States is retreating on its commitment to science and technology and risks falling behind in the global competitiveness race.

The Chinese government recently announced a massive $52 billion investment in research and development for 2024 — a 10% surge over the previous year that represents the largest percentage increase of any major funding area, including military spending.

In contrast, the U.S. cut total investment in research and development for fiscal 2024 by 2.7%, including a sharp 11.3% cut in non-defense R&D spending. The budget of the National Science Foundation, the nation’s leading science agency, was cut by 8%, far short of President Biden’s request for a 19% boost.

“We are sacrificing our own competitiveness, unilaterally. We’re not even in the race,” Science & Technology Action Committee (STAC) Co-Chair Sudip Parikh said at a recent Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) event. “We’ve got to make sure we’re putting the heat and that pressure on our elected officials to ensure we maintain the scientific investment required for economic vitality and national security.”

The U.S. was once perceived as the undisputed global leader in science and technology. As China ramps up its investment in innovation, it’s clear that many Americans believe U.S. leadership is now in jeopardy. In fact, a poll in the STAC’s State of Science in America report found 75% of respondents in five workforce sectors believe the U.S. is losing or has already lost global leadership in science and technology. The report also found 60% of respondents believe China will be the leader within just five years.

It’s a trend the country can no longer ignore. As the global competitiveness race continues unabated, it’s clear that the U.S. must develop a national science and technology strategy and ramp up federal investment in the cutting-edge technologies that will shape the future — from artificial intelligence to quantum computing to advanced bioscience — to ensure the new era of innovation happens right here in the U.S.

“Anything that deteriorates the innovation culture in America is a direct threat to our national security,” Dr. John Hamre, president and CEO of CSIS, said at a recent Research!America event.

Over the past several decades, the United States has failed to keep pace with science and technology spending relative to China. Federal R&D spending has decreased to just under 0.7% of our GDP today compared to 1.9% in 1964 at the height of the space race. Between 2010 and 2019, the U.S. share of global research and development spending declined from 29% of global R&D to 27%, while China’s share increased from 15% to 22%.

“China has steadily increased their investments in research and development. And these investments have a clearly stated purpose: unseating the United States as the world’s leader in science and technology,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, recently wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. “China’s Communist Party understands that winning the technological race will result in China winning the economic and national security race.”

We can’t let that happen. In order for the U.S. to remain a global leader, lawmakers must step up to provide the vital science and technology funding the nation needs — before it’s too late.

“Throughout our nation’s history, federal support for science and technology has fueled many of the most transformative innovations that have helped the United States overcome its biggest challenges,” said Parikh, CEO of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Executive Publisher of the Science Family of Journals who served as science advisor and professional staff to Senate Appropriations Republicans from 2001-2009. “As new threats to our national security and economy arise, strong federal leadership on science and technology is essential.”

The Science & Technology Action Committee (STAC) is a group of 25 non-profit, academic, foundation, and corporate leaders working to dramatically strengthen U.S. science and technology. The Committee is co-chaired by: Bill Novelli, Professor Emeritus and founder of Business for Impact at Georgetown University and former CEO of AARP, Sudip Parikh, CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Executive Publisher of the Science Family of Journals, Mary Woolley, President & CEO of Research!America, and Keith Yamamoto, Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy at UCSF and President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).