The real battle between the US and China is about talent, immigration – Community News
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The real battle between the US and China is about talent, immigration

There is one thing that US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree on. As Biden said in July, “As we compete for the future of the 21st century with China and other countries, we need to stay abreast of the very latest advances in science and technology.” Xi expressed similar sentiments to a group of scientists and engineers in May: “Scientific and technological innovation has become the main battleground of the international strategic game, and competition around the leading heights of science and technology is unprecedentedly fierce.”

Yet the focus on technology in the US-China conflict has often obscured a crucial nuance: technological strength is the product of national capacity for innovation, and at its core, innovation is driven by highly skilled individuals. Without a domestic ecosystem of entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers, no amount of government investment or industrial policy will deliver the technological breakthroughs needed to increase productivity or fight and win the wars of the future. In other words, as Remco Zwetsloot, an American occupational therapist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, puts it in a new study, “technology competition is a talent show.”

China’s most obvious advantage in this struggle is the sheer size of its population. This gives the country an absolute advantage in the talent pool it can draw from, as Chinese universities are expected to earn nearly twice as many STEM doctoral degrees as the United States by 2025. The rapidly increasing quantity and quality of STEM graduates in China is providing a significant tailwind for the country’s efforts to improve the global competitiveness of its workforce. Beijing then directs state grants toward this talent to focus resources on developing advanced technologies, such as semiconductors, robotics, 5G telecommunications and biotechnology.

There is one thing that US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree on. As Biden said in July, “As we compete for the future of the 21st century with China and other countries, we need to stay abreast of the very latest advances in science and technology.” Xi expressed similar sentiments to a group of scientists and engineers in May: “Scientific and technological innovation has become the main battleground of the international strategic game, and competition around the leading heights of science and technology is unprecedentedly fierce.”

Yet the focus on technology in the US-China conflict has often obscured a crucial nuance: technological strength is the product of national capacity for innovation, and at its core, innovation is driven by highly skilled individuals. Without a domestic ecosystem of entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers, no amount of government investment or industrial policy will deliver the technological breakthroughs needed to increase productivity or fight and win the wars of the future. In other words, as Remco Zwetsloot, an American occupational therapist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, puts it in a new study, “technology competition is a talent show.”

China’s most obvious advantage in this struggle is the sheer size of its population. This gives the country an absolute advantage in the talent pool it can draw from, as Chinese universities are expected to earn nearly twice as many STEM doctoral degrees as the United States by 2025. The rapidly increasing quantity and quality of STEM graduates in China is providing a significant tailwind for the country’s efforts to improve the global competitiveness of its workforce. Beijing then directs state grants toward this talent to focus resources on developing advanced technologies, such as semiconductors, robotics, 5G telecommunications and biotechnology.

These efforts are supported by Xi, who in recent years has made boosting China’s human capital pipeline a priority in service to his overall agenda to build a “modern socialist nation” by 2035. As he argued in a speech earlier this year, “the competition of today’s world is a competition of human talent and education.” At a special two-day meeting in late September, involving all eight senior Chinese Communist Party officials, Xi called for the development of a strategy to transform China into a “great world center of professional talent and innovation.”

But these advantages coexist with significant headwinds. First, China is already well into a pronounced demographic slowdown, one that will act as a structural drag on the economy in the coming decades. According to a recent study published in the Lancet, China’s population will decline by nearly 50 percent by the middle of the century. Recent efforts by the Chinese government to halt this decline will do little to bend the population growth curve.

Second, thanks to restrictive immigration policies and a relative lack of attraction, immigrants make up far less than 1 percent of China’s total population, compared to 14 percent in the United States. Of course, the staggering size of China’s population may obviate the need for a more robust immigration program, but in the areas of technology where China seeks to dominate, even small numbers of highly educated immigrants can make a significant difference.

Finally, and most importantly, China’s rural areas are experiencing a “human capital crisis,” in the words of Stanford University’s Scott Rozelle and Natalie Hell. Despite impressive progress in producing STEM graduates, rural education levels are among the lowest for middle-income countries. While nearly 80 percent of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development members between the ages of 25 and 65 have attended secondary school, in China it is only 30 percent, although it is slightly higher among young people. According to research by Rozelle, chronic malnutrition in rural areas left more than 50 percent of eighth grade students in poorer areas with lower IQs than their urban counterparts. Since much of China’s future workforce will come from rural areas, turning this relatively low-skilled labor pool into workforces for the industries of the future is a major challenge.

The United States, on the other hand, is in a unique position to win a competition for human talent if it leverages its strengths and takes further reforms and investments seriously. But to be sure, the speed of China’s progress in this talent show makes it imperative that the United States get serious to fully realize its potential.

For starters, the United States’ greatest asset is its openness, which has positioned it as a magnet for the best ideas and brightest minds from around the world. Leading US companies such as Google, Intel, AT&T, Pfizer and Tesla were launched by immigrants. Indeed, a recent survey found that nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by first- or second-generation immigrants. More than a third of all Nobel Prizes won by Americans since 1901 have gone to immigrants or foreigners who study or work at American universities. Immigration is a critical factor not only for the economy, but also for building benefits in critical technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI). According to research from the Paulson Institute, “more than two-thirds of the leading AI researchers working in the United States have earned bachelor’s degrees in other countries.”

Welcoming foreign talent is only part of the United States’ formula for success. The deep and liquid capital markets, transparent legal system, strong intellectual property protection and flexible labor laws create a favorable environment for individuals to take risks and scale ideas to multinational corporations. In the annual Global Innovation Index, conducted by the World Intellectual Property Organization, the United States came in third – behind only Switzerland and Sweden – while China was in twelfth place. The United States controls 30 percent of global wealth and 35 percent of global innovation, despite having less than 5 percent of the world’s population. As political scientist Michael Beckley of Tufts University points out, the United States is also “home to nearly 600 of the world’s 2,000 most profitable companies and 50 of the top 100 universities worldwide.”

But to maintain this innovation edge, the United States will need to do much more than rest on its laurels if it is to evoke the national will to create technologies of the future. As the final report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence concluded, “The United States risks losing global competition for scarce AI expertise if it does not cultivate more potential talent domestically and recruit and retain more existing talent from abroad. .” So the recent trend of declining international registrations and increased outflows of foreign-born talent from the United States should serve as a warning light. In addition to making concerted efforts to demonstrate that the United States continues to welcome foreign-born talent, Washington also urgently needs to clear backlogs for green card applications and advance immigration reform.

It will also need to invest in the underlying infrastructure to upgrade the existing human talent base in the United States. Such an effort would require conscious planning and policy implementation. Issues that have long been viewed as unrelated to the United States’ global reputation (such as health and nutrition, staff training, early childhood education, access to higher education, equitable access to seed capital, government support for basic science research and development , and modern and sustainable infrastructure) should be seen as crucial components of national power, alongside investment in hard military capabilities.

So if we shift the lens on competition between the US and China to one supported by a race to attract and cultivate talent, any law-abiding, foreign-born STEM student who is visa-banned narrows the future technological ahead of the United States, while every child who is hungry for school reflects not only a moral tragedy, but also a long-lasting national security.

Through their words and actions, China’s leaders have already established a national focus on developing and attracting top talent, which they see as crucial to Beijing’s global competitiveness in the 21st century. The United States is entering this race in a strong competitive position. Will it take the necessary steps to ensure its lead?