China 'Speeding Up' Efforts to Build 700 Labs in Tech Race With United States

As tensions simmer between China and the U.S., the Chinese government aims to get a leg up on its rival in an escalating technology race by accelerating the construction of hundreds of new lab facilities.

China has begun "speeding up" the process of constructing some 700 state laboratories, which it plans to complete by the end of 2020, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday, citing the state-run newspaper Economic Information Daily. The facilities are intended to "serve as a significant force to lead fundamental research."

Newsweek reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the State Department for comment but did not hear back before publication.

Xi Jinping and Donald Trump
China's President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump. Amid increasing tensions between their two countries, the U.S. recently implemented new sanctions on 33 Chinese government institutions and companies. DAN KITWOOD, NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty

In 2018, the Asian nation's Ministry of Science and Technology released a document laying out the goal of constructing the labs. That document explained that the facilities would "focus on the world's [most] advanced technology and the long term development of the nation."

Earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed China's need for self-reliance and technological development during a trip to Jiangxi province.

"Technological innovation is the root of life for businesses," Xi said at the time, according to China's Xinhua News Agency. "Only if we own our own intellectual property and core technologies, then can we produce products with core competitiveness and [we] won't be beaten in intensifying competition."

Last Friday, the U.S. implemented new sanctions on 33 Chinese government institutions and companies, and it has previously banned some Chinese technology from being used within the U.S., citing security concerns.

"The new additions to the Entity List demonstrate our commitment to preventing the use of U.S. commodities and technologies in activities that undermine our interests," U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

Tensions between the U.S. and China have risen since President Donald Trump took office in 2017. Under his leadership, the U.S. launched a multibillion-dollar trade war against China in 2018, which appeared to be heading toward a resolution in January, when a phase one trade agreement between the two nations was signed.

But as the coronavirus pandemic has spread around the globe, and the U.S. has become the nation with by far the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths, the Trump administration has repeatedly blamed China. The novel virus was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and Chinese officials initially covered up the outbreak.

Since then, China has been accused of lacking transparency and suppressing research into the virus' origins. Chinese leaders have dismissed criticism from the U.S., arguing that the Trump administration is attempting to deflect blame for its slow response to the outbreak.

"Some political forces in the U.S. are hijacking the China-U.S. relations and pushing our two countries toward a 'new Cold War,'" Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on this past Sunday. "This dangerous attempt to turn back the wheel of history will undo the fruits of decades of long cooperation between the two peoples."

Meanwhile, the Chinese Ministry of State Security has reportedly warned "that global anti-China sentiment is at its highest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown," according to Reuters. The ministry's internal report noted that there was an increased likelihood of a direct confrontation with the U.S.

State television in China reported on Tuesday that Xi had ordered the nation's military to increase its preparedness for armed combat, noting that the pandemic is having a significant impact on the country's national security, Reuters reported. "China's performance in fighting the new coronavirus has shown the success of military reform," he said.