Leon Panetta: US ‘Not in Good Position’ Competing Technologically Against China

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta expressed concern about the United States’ ability to compete against China technologically.

Panetta spoke this week at CNBC’s Technology Executive Council Summit and said lack of investment in the industry is a critical national security risk.

“We’re not in a good position” Panetta said. “We have to increase investments in technology in order to at least begin to move into a competitive position with China.”

Although legislation that would increase domestic semiconductor chip production and boost other technologies passed in the Senate early this summer, it hasn’t passed in the House.

Panetta told summit members that there is no question competition in various areas between the U.S. and China is increasing tensions between the two superpowers.

The former CIA director said the U.S. needs to invest more in technology because there’s a risk that competition could lead to some type of conflict.

“China has invested a tremendous amount in AI, quantum computing, robotics and cyber, and their intent is to try to jump ahead of the U.S. and the rest of the world with these technologies,” Panetta said at the summit.

“The U.S. has not kept up, and I think it is really important for our defense establishment to invest in new technologies and increase our ability to compete.

“Frankly, the key right now for the U.S. in dealing with China is to develop deterrents, the ability to show China that we are strengthening our position with regards to the ability to respond to anything China can do.”

Panetta told summit members that the government needs to develop partnerships with Big Tech companies.

“I am in California. I am on the board of a technology company [Oracle] in Silicon Valley, and I have seen firsthand the ability of these companies to be innovative and creative and ahead of the game,” he said. “We have to develop a partnership between government and the private sector in order to make sure we are working together to increase the capabilities.”

Panetta said, so far, China has been succeeding in trying to extend its global influence under president Xi Jinping.

“The U.S. has been through a period where we have not been as competitive as we should have been,” Panetta said at the CNBC summit. “So, we’re behind the curve a little bit at this point and with tensions in Taiwan and in the South China Sea, there are growing concerns that there could be a conflict.”

The founder of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy said this week’s virtual meeting between President Joe Biden and Xi should be viewed as a modest success.

“I’m glad both sides saw some rationale in trying to deescalate,” Panetta said. “It’s very important to have a dialog, to manage the strategic competition and the best thing you can hope for right now is both sides learn to manage the strategic competition.

“There is no question, in my experience, that if you can have two leaders communicate with one another and be able to talk with one another that is a step in the right direction. Almost everything in politics and foreign policy is based on human relationships.”

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