China and Military Power through Artificial Intelligence

Complacency or eased trade restrictions on dual-use technology would be the greater danger. So would any backing-off of counter-espionage investigations into Chinese bribery of American university professors or further infiltrations of PLA-linked Chinese nationals into research centers in the U.S. Both are prime examples of Beijing’s willingness to play a long game as regards theft of intellectual property that has potential military applications.

Interestingly, there is another Chinese firm that is often mentioned in discussions of China’s push into facial recognition AI development. The company known as Megvii produces a software application called Face++ that has secured many patents in the use of AI for surveillance technologies. One of that company’s stakeholders? Bohai Harvest RST, the investment company started by Hunter Biden and his business partners.

We have seen that China is one of the many practitioners of the “Princeling” strategy, which enriches the associates or family members of powerful politicians in order to grease the skids for deals that, if considered on their own merits, would likely not be allowed by the national security gatekeepers whose mission is to protect valuable military technology from getting into the hands of America’s adversaries.

Military use of artificial intelligence may well determine the outcome of the next war, and it is far too strategic to American national security to look away for even a moment from the dangers of the Chinese Communist Party.

China’s military buildup threatens its neighbors and regional stability in the Far East. Beijing’s aggressive military expansion has made its navy the largest in the world, and it has been flexing its maritime muscle in the South China Sea and Indo-Pacific region. It continues to build its ballistic missile capacities as well.

Further, China’s expertise in cyber-warfare is both well-established and feared. It has allowed the PRC to hack into computers and steal intellectual property, as well as other cyber crimes.

But the junction of China’s growing cyber capabilities and its aggressive military buildup is in the application of artificial intelligence (AI) to military weapons and systems.

Conducted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s strategy in military expansion moves on many fronts, and AI work is integral to all of its military goals. The PLA has been committed to prioritizing innovation over expansion in its modernization efforts at least since 2014.

The PLA believes it can leapfrog the U.S. in the course of this transformation. China, however, has many challenges to developing and deploying AI-based systems that the U.S. does not. They lack the kind of technical talent the U.S. has, as well as the skill to manage the enormous quantities of data that such systems rely on, both for development and for operations. Not surprisingly, their organization, too, is a hindrance to innovation in the military AI space.

Even with these challenges, China has shown it can compete with the U.S. in this field and has no qualms about stealing or extorting what it cannot build itself. Development of intelligent weapons systems is simply the most recent area in which the balance of power between the U.S. and China will be contested in the next 5-10 years. The United States must ensure that its own innovation stays well ahead, and far out of the reach of the grasping hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

China has determination, focus, and the funds to advance rapidly in many areas. Yet there is always a tendency to overstate the threat China poses, and the progress China will make, because of its size, resources, and the known propensity of the country’s communist leadership to lie about most everything. Within the ever-advancing field of AI, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. For now.

Based on patents China has secured in the AI domain, it has thus far spent far more effort on technology meant to monitor and oppress its own citizens. This includes extensive research in facial-recognition software, which China uses to track its own people, especially the Uyghur minority that it has forced into concentration camps. China also has an advantage in patents for Chinese-language data processing and speech recognition.

The U.S., by comparison, has a decisive advantage in applying AI to business problems and to the development of autonomous vehicles. While “driverless cars” get most of the attention in the mainstream press, the promise of autonomous military aircraft and unmanned naval vehicles and weapons will be the next quantum leap for American military capabilities. The U.S. military is already experienced with remote-controlled surveillance drones and strike-ready airplanes.

Complacency or eased trade restrictions on dual-use technology, however, would be the greater danger. So would any backing-off of counter-espionage investigations into China’s bribery of American university professors or further infiltrations of PLA-linked Chinese nationals into research centers in the U.S. Both are prime examples of Beijing’s willingness to play a long game as regards theft of intellectual property that has potential military applications.

In the books Secret Empires and Profiles in Corruption, I traced the involvement of Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, in the sale of a Michigan company called Henniges Automotive to a Chinese military-linked company known as Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC). The identity of the purchaser was disguised via shell companies while the sale of Henniges, whose technology has dual-use (for civilian and military application) was approved by the Committee of Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) during the Obama administration. I also documented how Hunter Biden’s investment firm took an interest in China General Nuclear Power Corp., a company that in 2016 was charged with espionage against the U.S. That deal was also approved under the Obama administration.

Interestingly, there is another Chinese firm that is often mentioned in discussions of China’s push into facial recognition AI development. The company known as Megvii produces a software application called Face++ that has secured many patents in the use of AI for surveillance technologies. One of that company’s stakeholders? Bohai Harvest RST, the investment company started by Hunter Biden and his business partners.

It is important to keep these sorts of false-flag transactions in mind now that Joe Biden is the president. We have seen that China is one of the many practitioners of the “Princeling” strategy, which enriches the associates or family members of powerful politicians in order to grease the skids for deals that, if considered on their own merits, would likely not be allowed by the national security gatekeepers whose mission is to protect valuable military technology from getting into the hands of America’s adversaries.

Experience teaches that it is imperative to shine the light in the dark corners where this kind of cronyism lies and thrives. The Chinese, like the Russians and others, have gotten only too adept at exploiting the shadows to obtain what they could not otherwise get.

Chinese technology companies such as Huawei were sanctioned heavily by the Trump administration, which placed the company on the Commerce Department’s “Entity List,” preventing its products from being sold in the U.S. Signs are good that the Biden administration understands the threat to U.S. communications networks. When asked recently whether Biden would keep Huawei on the US Entity List, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that technology remains at the very center of US-China competition:

"China has been willing to do whatever it takes to gain a technological advantage – stealing intellectual property, engaging in industrial espionage, and forcing technology transfer.

"Our view – the President's view – is that we need to play a better defense, which must include holding China accountable for its unfair and illegal practices and making sure that American technologies aren't facilitating China's military buildup."

The question, of course, is not what they say but they will do.

Military use of artificial intelligence may well determine the outcome of the next war, and it is far too strategic to American national security to look away for even a moment from the dangers of the Chinese Communist Party.

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