The country that controls fifth-generation (5G) wireless telecommunications infrastructure will dominate the next 20 years of technological innovation, economic growth and prosperity, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC) said in a new white paper.
It might not be the U.S. Unless the the nation can develop a national play book to combat a decades-long, uber-aggressive strategy in which China has mobilized “state-owned and state-influenced” companies to seize dominance in the market for a number of emerging technologies, the U.S. will struggle to solve its “China problem,” the CSC said in its report, entitled Building a Trust ICT Supply Chain.
The bipartisan CSC, formed in 2018 of Congressional members, former government officials and private sector leaders tasked with developing a unified strategy to blunt cyber threats posed by foreign adversaries, last March unwrapped a federal report in which it offered 75 recommendations toward that end. Chief among them is the need for a national security coordinator. This latest white paper is another step along those lines, arguing that an encumbered federal bureaucracy and outdated strategies leaves doors leading to a cyber disaster wide open.
“Put bluntly: in the context of our supply chains for ICT, the United States has a China problem," the CSC said, resulting from a “concerted, strategic effort” by the Chinese government to capture these markets “through a mix of government-led industrial policy” that has included:
- Unfair and deceptive trade practices, including state-led intellectual property theft.
- The manipulation of international standards and trade bodies.
- A growing network of influence built on the back of diplomatic and trade negotiations.
- Significant investments in research and development in ICT.
In other words, Chinese state intervention has tilted the playing field of international commerce to where it is “neither free nor fair, hampering the ability of American and partner companies to compete for global market share.” At the top of the list of threats is U.S. dependence on China and other adversaries for some of the country’s critical supply chains, the report said. “Dependency on China and other adversary countries for some of our most critical supply chains threatens to undermine the trustworthiness of critical technologies and components that constitute and connect to cyberspace,” the report said. ”This dependency also risks impairing the availability of these same critical technologies and components and compromises American and partner competitiveness in global markets in the face of Chinese economic aggression.”
To address these challenges, the CSC proposes a five-pillar strategy based on public-private and international partnerships. Specifically, the Commission laid out a road map and recommendations focused on:
- Identifying key technologies and equipment through government reviews and public-private partnerships to identify risk.
- Ensuring minimum viable manufacturing capacity through both strategic investment and the creation of economic clusters.
- Protecting supply chains from compromise through better intelligence, information sharing, and product testing.
- Stimulating a domestic market through targeted infrastructure investment and ensuring the ability of firms to offer products in the United States similar to those offered in foreign markets.
- Ensuring global competitiveness of trusted supply chains, including American and partner companies, in the face of Chinese anti-competitive behavior in global markets.
The CSC's white paper also offers five primary and eight supporting recommendations to build trusted supply chains for critical ICT technologies:
- Congress should direct the executive branch to develop and implement an information and communication technologies industrial base strategy.
- Congress should direct the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to identify key information and communication technologies and materials through industry consultation and government review.
- Congress should fund the Department of Commerce to solicit competitive bids and applications from states, municipalities, and localities for the designation of critical technology manufacturing clusters.
- The President should designate a lead agency to oversee government ICT supply chain risk management efforts to serve as the nexus for public-private partnerships on supply chain risk management.
- The Federal Communications Commission should tie 5G infrastructure investment to open and interoperable standards and work with the Department of Defense and the National Telecommunications and Information Agency.
“The imperative is clear. Chinese government interventions in its own domestic industry, in global trade, and in standard-setting bodies has created an uneven playing field on which companies in the United States and partner countries struggle to compete,” the CSC wrote in the white paper. “Now is the time for strategic cohesion. Without an ICT industrial base strategy, America risks falling behind competitively and leaving its citizens at serious risk.”