By Amara Graps

It is hard to estimate how much the Chinese government has already invested in quantum technology, but here is an attempt to provide a best estimate using verifiability and open sources as materials.

The Sleuthing Strategy:

1) A China quantum expert foundation + 2) top-down : China policy interests + 3) bottom up: implementations.

The foundation: 1) an insider’s view:  report by Chinese quantum workers: “Quantum Information Science” by Qiang Zhang, FeihuXu, LiLi,  Nai-Le Liu and Jian-Wei Pan, 2019, and 2) a broad, objective analysis:”Quantum Hegemony” by Elsa B. Kania & John K. Costello, published in 2018. With this foundation, I have filled in the gaps, especially in recent years.

Quantum Research and Technology Projects

Chinese quantum technology funded subjects include quantum information research, quantum control, quantum sensing, quantum materials, quantum dots, quantum cryptography, quantum chips, plus the quantum communication that China is actively advancing.

Quantum Communication

Of the latter, China’s most visible quantum technology implementations are their Quantum Secure communication Networks –- regional “Trunks” — combined with their quantum satellite project (nicknamed Micius or Mozi (Chinese: 墨子).

China’s first integrated quantum communication network (January 2021). Credit: University of Science and Technology of China.

Quantum Research

China’s National Natural Sciences Foundation, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) provide the funding for many of the other quantum technology areas. Additionally, CAS and the University of Science and Technology of China, with support from idsnstitutes all over China, are building a new National Laboratory for Quantum Information Science, aimed to become the world’s largest quantum research facility. Construction is underway with reportedly 1600 construction workers. To help you sort out the name: Chinese social media refers to the new laboratory as ‘CAS Center for Excellence on Quantum Information and Quantum Physics’, seen here with Research Building #1 nearly completed in Hefei in March 2021. If you are wondering about the building’s odd shape, it is to pay tribute to Albert Einstein’s light-quantum equation E=hv.

Research Building Number 1 of the CAS Center for Excellence on Quantum Information and Quantum Physics in Hefei High-tech Zone.

Funding for an additional broader purpose quantum organization: the Quantum Information and Quantum Science and Technology Innovation Research Institute or Quantum Innovation Research Institute for short, is aimed to support the above National Laboratory, while also developing the growth of quantum industries in Hefei and beyond. 

Investment Sum, So Far

The sum of their investment to 2018 is at least $5 billion, possibly reaching $10 billion with the communication networks including the quantum satellites. Added to that figure is $15 billion through approximately 2022, for the National Laboratory for Quantum Information Science with the overarching Quantum Innovation Research Institute.

Therefore, it is estimated that there has been at least a $25 billion Chinese government investment from the mid-1980s through 2022 into quantum technology without including private investment and funding under the current ‘Five Year Plan’ (FYP).

A combination of the information provided in Table 1 from Zhang et al, 2019 and information from Kania & Costello, 2018 with gaps and guestimates provided by A. Graps.

Why is the Chinese Government Investing World Record Quantities in Quantum Technology?

China’s Quantum Technology Policy Interests

Kania and Costello suggest that quantum technology serves a dual-use purpose to “offset” key pillars of U.S. military power, potentially undermining critical technological advantages.

It was in 2013, when the international security experts read the leaks of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed the extent of U.S. intelligence capabilities and activities in China. According to Pan Jian-Wei, this event greatly increased both China’s national cyber security activities and raised the urgency of his work.

According to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, China has emerged as a clear leader in research and development in quantum cryptography, while constructing a national quantum communications infrastructure that could better protect, sensitive military and government communications against potential adversaries’ signals intelligence and cyber-espionage capabilities. China’s new National Laboratory for Quantum Information Science, when it is completed, will reportedly engage in research “of immediate use” to China’s armed forces.

In addition, quantum technology fits neatly into the government’s every five year plan, in whichever theme, it has adopted for that time period. The Chinese government’s 2016 National Key Research and Development Plan, which specifically describes quantum technology as one of its pillars, streamlines the investments.

Quantum Technology in China’s Five-Year Plans

China’s Five-Year Plan is the country’s quinquennial strategy for economic development: a time segment with a national theme, growth targets, evaluations and new reforms. The First Plan was in 1953–1957. The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) is now. To show how wide and deep China’s support for quantum technology is, here are China’s current main stakeholders:

Early in the 13th ‘Five Year Plan’ (2016-2020), MOST launched the ‘Quantum Control and Quantum Information’ National Key Research and Development (R&D) project, more than $100 Million investment, which had a similar effect to the Snowden leaks – Chinese quantum development was accelerated once again. Since MOST is a rare Chinese Ministry that puts its budget transparently on its website, it’s worth to note that its year budget is on the order of $80 billion per year.

The ‘Targets table’ on page 45 of the 2020 final budget is especially intriguing. In this country’s large capacity for planning and documenting everything, is a point system incentive for managers to track employees’ papers and patents to meet China’s targets.  Their Targets table carries the line: “Provide method support for breaking through foreign patent blockade, breaking technology monopoly…” This line item would be one of the drivers for the country’s large number quantum patents.

April 16, 2022