“Not a bad strategy for the industrial age … One of the things I think we need to do in the digital world that we’re living in now … is step back and say, ‘So how can we have a much more integrated government and private sector approach to this? What is the role of the government in helping companies to be competitive?'”
Losing in these areas would have “significant national security implications for us”.
The dramatic comments by such a senior member of the US intelligence establishment, who is being hosted in Canberra by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, underscore Western concerns about a global battle for technology supremacy that many commentators are comparing to an arms race.
Quantum computing, AI and 5G have military as well as civilian applications and therefore will confer a significant strategic advantage on any country that streaks ahead.
Mr Rogers said 5G, which constitutes the most radical overhaul of the plumbing that powers the internet since it was established, had been emblematic of the problem, which would get worse.
Western countries have grappled with whether they dare use cheap but effective equipment made by Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE despite security concerns. Meanwhile only a couple of Scandinavian firms – and no American companies – are competitive.
“We should ask ourselves how did we wake up one day, and suddenly our industry – doesn’t matter if it’s Australia, the United States – is telling us we don’t have an economically viable model for 5G technology?” Mr Rogers said in a speech hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“We cannot compete right now in an area where the West was at the cutting edge?
“If we think it’s bad now with 5G, I would argue it’ll be even worse when 6G comes along in about three years. It’ll be even worse when artificial intelligence, quantum, you name it (arrives.)
“We’re going to have a series of technological changes coming up that are going to be so foundational, that if we don’t change the dynamic, we’re going to have this conversation over and over again.”
Australia was the first among Western nations, including the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence network, to announce an effective ban on Chinese-made 5G equipment.
Mr Rogers also said he was partly in Australia to highlight the value of the relationship with the US at a time when some Australians incorrectly believed their nation would be forced to choose between the US and China.
Mr Rogers stressed he did not want to stop or contain China’s rise, which was inevitable and was powering growth elsewhere.
And he said he was not advocating government control of the economy or tech sector in the West.
But he said: “Governments have a unique role when it comes to trade policy, when it comes to tax structure, when it comes to immigration policy – all components potentially of a broader strategy for national security and economic competitiveness.
“So what if we work together with private industry and said, ‘So what is it that has precluded your ability to compete against Huawei for example?”
The Western model was based on companies competing on a level playing field, he said. But this was no longer happening. Western companies could not compete with the entire Chinese national endeavour.
China had helped its technology sector by stealing intellectual property through cybertheft, forcing foreign companies wanting to do business in China to share their innovation secrets, and subsidising Chinese firms to become national champions, he said.
David Wroe is defence and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
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