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Despite US Restrictions, it Took China Only 15 Years to Lead the Quantum Computing Race

Despite US Restrictions, it Took China Only 15 Years to Lead the Quantum Computing Race

2008. World-renowned quantum scientist Pan Jianwei returned to China and a laboratory at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) was designated to start a quantum program in China. Fast forward ten years, and China is the leading power in quantum communications and is making steady leaps in other areas of quantum technology.

Because the principle of superposition (multiple states at the same time) is used, quantum computers are very adept at solving some optimization and scheduling problems dealing with massive data sets, making them invaluable fields such as cybersecurity, cryptography, and blockchain technology, among their many application areas. other emerging. The past decade has seen exciting technological breakthroughs in the field of quantum computing due to the massive investment being made by the public and private sectors. A wide variety of sectors have made use of quantum computing to create simulation models (aviation and aviation), large-scale data analytics (space and cosmology programs), forecasting (weather and climate), and building cryptographic systems (military and defense).

Read also: With a focus on China, India is joining the race to arm quantum technology in future military conflicts

While tech giants have thrown their hats into the ring with their quantum computer programs, countries and their governments around the world are not far from launching their own quantum initiative. The bulk of government policy funding related to quantum technologies is allocated to the development of the latest quantum computers.

The United States: The Dominant Leader Once

The United States government has recognized quantum computing technology as a critical field due to its economic prosperity and national security concerns. The government launched the National Quantum Initiative in 2018 with a total budget overlay of $1.2 billion over the next five years. The Office of National Quantum Coordination was established within the White House to oversee implementation of the program. The majority of the money was earmarked for building quantum research facilities with an additional $237 million earmarked as part of the 2021 budget. Quantum computing and the development of quantum computers received the lion’s share of seed funding from the government.

The United States government has recognized quantum computing technology as a critical field due to its economic prosperity and national security concerns.

An additional advantage of the United States is the presence of American private sector companies that are actively involved in the development of quantum computers. Tech giants like Google, IBM, and Microsoft now also offer online programming and cloud services to build and access quantum computing applications. It is clear that quantum computing has become an area of ​​interest of the United States regarding China’s rise in the field as well as potential military applications of the technology, so it is not surprising that technological nationalist tendencies have been shown by the US government in this regard. For example, the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA) was extended to quantum technology products in 2018. This included important quantum refrigerators and cryogenics along with software and artificial intelligence to build quantum computers. This was done in order to make cross-border cooperation with Chinese citizens and academic institutions more difficult.

China and its rapid rise

While establishing itself as a leader in quantum communication technology, China quickly began dedicating its resources to developing alternative quantum computing technologies. As the global leader in patents related to quantum communications and cryptography, China has advanced by leaps and bounds in quantum computing over the past decade. Once behind the West in developing quantum computers, China now has two of the world’s fastest quantum computers on its territory. The unveiling of “Zuchongzhi-2”, the country’s fastest quantum computer, in late 2021 effectively put the country into a quantum computing power and on par with the United States.

Once behind the West in developing quantum computers, China now has two of the world’s fastest quantum computers on its territory.

Despite US Restrictions, it Took China Only 15 Years to Lead the Quantum Computing Race

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The pace at which China is adopting quantum computing technology is truly exceptional, with the country claiming a “quantum advantage” in both superconducting qubits and photonic technology (two different types of technologies used to develop quantum computers). The Chinese government has provided massive state support to both academic institutions (University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), Tsinghua and Peking Universities) and private companies (Origin Quantum, Qasky, Huawei Cloud) to develop quantum computers in the country. China’s recent developments in the field of quantum computing have led to an increase in global protectionism in this field.

Ascent triggers

Quantum computing works on the principle of “qubits”, also called quantum bits which have the ability to store values ​​anywhere between 0 and 1 resulting in more computational capacity. To activate these qubits, there are many different technologies that have been developed. Each has its own advantages and dependencies on the basis of which the choice is made by the government or the private sector for investment.

In China, the role of the state and the government have played an important role in driving scientific and technological progress. The synergy that exists between the state and the local private sector has been exemplary in various fields and quantum technology is still no exception. The government provided funding for academic institutions to set up quantum computing research laboratories and financial support for domestic technology companies working on building real-world applications for quantum computers. In a way, the state acts as a bridge and facilitator that helps translate academic research into the quantum computing space to build actual quantum computers and develop applications for these devices.

Apart from the role of the government and the state, one of the main motivating factors for the rise of China in some important and strategic technologies is the ability to bypass restrictions that may prevent its growth and development in this field. There have been many export controls and import restrictions in quantum technology on ultra-low-temperature cooling systems. But Chinese researchers ended up developing breakthroughs in an alternative field of quantum computing technology such as photonic computing that does not require extensive cooling. Recently, there have also been reports of Chinese scientists developing helium gas cooling systems that would ease existing limitations. Researchers in Shanghai have been able to create a device that can create the extremely low temperatures at which quantum computers normally operate. This means that China, regardless of technological sanctions and other restrictions imposed on its industry, continues to rise in the field of quantum computing leaving others behind.

15 years was all it took for China to rise from a nascent quantum force to one of the world leaders in quantum computing technology. Currently, there is no dedicated government policy in India towards the field of quantum computing specifically. The 2020 budget speech saw the announcement of the National Mission for Quantum Technologies and Applications (NM-QTA) which was to build a comprehensive quantum technology ecosystem across the country.

15 years was all it took for China to rise from a nascent quantum force to one of the world leaders in quantum computing technology.

Despite US Restrictions, it Took China Only 15 Years to Lead the Quantum Computing Race

Currently, the field of quantum computing in India is dependent on the private sector with major public-private partnerships leading the conversation. 2021 was a landmark year for quantum computing initiatives in India. Early in the year, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) announced a partnership with tech giant, Amazon, specifically its Amazon Web Services (AWS) subsidiary, to create the country’s first quantum computing. A lab called Quantum Computing Lab. IBM India, the world leader in quantum computing, has decided to start the IBM Quantum Educator program in the country. The program involves IBM providing students with quantum computer prototypes, Qiskit (IBM’s open source software), and other resources to improve research and education in quantum computing. Other than tech giants, India also plays a major role in emerging and upcoming startups involved in quantum computing such as BosonQ, Qnu Labs and Automatski.

The role of facilitator by the Chinese government for academia and the private sector ensured continuous and uninterrupted technological development. The ability to undo the constraints placed by the United States and its allies in the field of quantum computing has also cemented its position in the field. It also led to major technological breakthroughs that would not have seemed possible in the absence of controls. Hence, it created a win-win scenario for the Chinese quantum technology industry, generating both intellectual property and reducing dependence on the West. India should seek to learn from China’s catalysts for growth in its quantum computing initiative.

Arjun Gargeyas is a research analyst at the Takshashila Foundation. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.

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