The possibility that China is taking the lead in quantum computing is likely a driving force behind the Biden Administration Executive Order aimed at boosting the U.S. National Quantum Initiative.">
A memorandum issued on May 4 by President Biden directs federal agencies to ensure that the U.S. maintains leadership in Quantum information science (QIS). But it is safe to assume that a subtext of the order is the danger that China poses.
The memorandum, “National Security Memorandum on Promoting United States Leadership in Quantum Computing While Mitigating Risks to Vulnerable Cryptographic Systems,” identifies the steps needed to maintain a U.S. lead in QIS while defending against foreign threats and directs agencies to begin the multi-year process of migrating “vulnerable” computer systems to quantum-resistant cryptography.
Quantum computers, which can complete certain tasks orders of magnitude faster than classical supercomputers, will be a critical bulwark against possible future cyber threats. Why is this a threat? A cryptanalytically relevant quantum computer (CRQC) will be capable of breaking the public-key cryptography on current computer systems.
“When it becomes available, a CRQC could jeopardize civilian and military communications, undermine supervisory and control systems for critical infrastructure, and defeat security protocols for most Internet-based financial transactions,” the memorandum said.
Key points in the memorandum include:
Though the memorandum did not mention any nation-state actors as threats, China has clearly become very competitive in quantum computing.
A July 15, 2021 article in Scientific American, “China Is Pulling Ahead in Global Quantum Race, New Studies Suggest” discussed advances in Chinese quantum computing including a quantum processor made of 66 superconducting qubits.
More recently, an article in DefenseOne, China May Have Just Taken the Lead in the Quantum Computing Race, said that China had surpassed Google’s 53-qubit Sycamore processor.
“In 2019, Google reported that its 53-qubit Sycamore processor had completed in 3.3 minutes a task that would have taken a traditional supercomputer at least 2.5 days. Last October, China’s 66-qubit Zuchongzhi 2 quantum processor reportedly completed the same task 1 million times faster,” the report said.
The Chinese team that developed the processor is led by Jian-Wei Pan, sometimes referred to as China’s Father of Quantum. Pan is a full professor of physics at the University of Science and Technology of China. Other institutions involved in the development of the processor include the Chinese Academy of Sciences Center for Excellence in Quantum Information and Quantum Physics and the Shanghai Research Center for Quantum Sciences.
Other reports (“Biden orders new quantum push to ensure encryption isn't cracked by rivals...to make sure you-know-who – OK, China – doesn't get ahead of the game”), also suggest that China may be further along in quantum computing than the U.S. government is letting on.
Beijing is keen on achieving breakthroughs in the field of quantum computing by 2030, according to The Register. In the memorandum, the Biden Administration says U.S. must transition cryptographic systems to quantum-resistant cryptography by 2035.