Is the US Ready for a Quantum Surprise from China?
(Newsweek) China has made quantum computing a strategic imperative. It reportedly spent $400 million on new research labs in Anhui province.Most experts don’t expect the quantum computing to be ready for prime time for 10 years or more. But that’s just a guess. True quantum supremacy would render the most common form of encryption obsolete. The implications are fueling a race of sorts, as nations vie for a quantum edge.
The nightmare scenario, from the standpoint of U.S. national security, is that China develops a working quantum computer without tipping its hand. That would leave China free to decrypt secure communications and gain access to reams of U.S. intelligence data. “China could develop quantum computing in secret, earlier than anticipated, and employ it against sensitive communications to out maneuver or strategically outflank the U.S.,” wrote Elsa Kania and John Costello in a report for the Center for a New American Security. “The arrival of such a quantum surprise would be difficult to assess and judge, and could confound U.S. intelligence assessments.”
U.S. policymakers also worry that China accomplish in quantum computing what it did in 5G communications: catch the U.S. industry flat-footed. What’s needed, they say, is some kind of industrial policy in Washington. “We have really strong tech companies,” says Christopher Painter, former top diplomat on cybersecurity at the U.S. State Department. “But if we really want to maintain an edge, we need to take this seriously at a strategic level.”