Today's geopolitical race is to attain tech edge

New DelhiWritten By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Apr 03, 2021, 02:06 AM IST
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Representative Image. Photograph:(AFP)

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You can match your rivals in courage and resolve. But not in technology. Hence, technological upper hand is needed.

Technology is a force multiplier. Think of it as a cheat code in geopolitics. It helps you gain an advantage over your rivals. Technology is how a small island of a few million people forged the biggest empire in history. It's how the United States brought a swift end to the second world war.

You can match your rivals in courage and resolve. But not in technology. Every era is marked by a defining invention.

Today it's tiny chips.

The countries behind these inventions dominated world politics.

Rise of companies like Microsoft and Apple coincided with America's leadership of a unipolar world. A world that China is looking to topple. 

Beijing has one advantage compared to the democratic world. In democracies we can't set millennium goals. Elections happen, governments change and so do priorities. China doesn't have the inconvenience of free thought. Its goals are permanent.

China shells out 2% of its GDP on R&D. That's around 346,000 million US Dollars.

What about the US?

It spends 2.7% of the national GDP on R&D. Equivalent to 476,000 million dollars. China is gaining rapidly on the US. But it's not quite at the same level.

Here's an even more stark indicator. China employs 1,089 researchers per million inhabitants.

The US? 4,205 per million inhabitants. The US is spending more money and manpower on the tech race.

But here's the issue. The US is a superpower on the decline. China is on the ascendancy.

Trajectory is more important than absolute numbers. The only area where China leads the US right now -- in cybersecurity.

The great electronic wall is impressive. But it's built at the altar of liberty and dissent. This is why the world is betting on China losing the tech race.

Key to china's downfall will be emerging powers like India. India spends around 0.7% of its GDP on Research and Development.

That's 47,000 million US Dollars. Numerically that just doesn't cut it. But India has an ace up its sleeve.


Indian researchers can squeeze more out of each dollar than their peers. The space missions are the best example.

India's Mars probe cost 74 million dollars. Matt Damon's movie The Martian had a budget of 108 million. India has succeeded where China failed. Beijing produces cheap goods that last a lunar cycle.

India has managed to combine low cost and top quality. The next step is marketing. How do you get foreign investors to make in India? A couple of schemes have already been rolled out. Like the production-linked incentive scheme for large-scale electronics manufacturing.

It has an outlay of around 41,000 crore rupees spread over 5 years. There's a similar incentive scheme for information technology as well.

This has an outlay of 7,300 crores over 4 years. India is pitching itself as a stable and open supplier. It is reflected in india's climb up the ease of doing business ladder.

But there are a couple of things India needs to be wary about.

One, not sacrificing on ingenuity.

Manufacturing is a money spinner...

But inventions pay more. The focus must remain on research and development. Deploying robots is one thing. Making them from scratch is the real deal.

But who makes the robots? Should the tech race be led by the government or the private sector.

In Japan, Germany, the US and the UK it's the private sector. But in India the government outspends the private sector by 10,000 million dollars.

Capitalism has many failures. Spurring ingenuity is not one of them. India's private sector must join the race. It must bet big on Indian minds.

Today's geopolitical race is a race to attain the tech edge. It's at the root of military deterrence. It's the key to solving domestic problems like poverty and climate change. 

And as always, this race is also about coming first.

As Mikhail Gorbachev said he who comes late is punished by life. The world can't afford to be late this time. Because the punishment in store is a cyber-world led by a cyberbully.