US State Department looks to bolster 'tech diplomacy'

New office is part of the Biden administration's modernisation agenda, as competition with China increases

President Joe Biden visits a robotics lab during a visit to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. AFP
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The US State Department on Tuesday launched a new office aimed at boosting “tech diplomacy” and engaging with foreign partners on rapidly emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

The move comes as Washington continues to focus on growing technological competition, particularly from China.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken set up the Office of the Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technology as part of a wider push to modernise US foreign policy and address the “constellation of critical and emerging technologies” that are reshaping the world, the State Department said.

While the statement did not mention China specifically, the White House last year released its National Security Strategy calling the Asian giant “the only competitor with both the intent and, increasingly, the capability to reshape the international order".

“The constellation of critical and emerging technologies reshaping the world is now an integral part of the conduct of US foreign policy and diplomacy,” the State Department said.

The centre will engage foreign partners on technologies that will “transform our societies, economies, and security — including biotechnology, advanced computing, artificial intelligence, and quantum information technologies”.

Mr Biden last year signed the multibillion dollar Chips and Science Act into law, which focused on boosting semiconductor production and research.

The White House sees the bill as crucial to countering China and ensuring that the US maintains its competitive edge over Beijing. The legislation provides $52.7 billion for semiconductor research, development, manufacturing and workplace development.

The State Department's new technology office will be headed by Deputy Special Envoy Seth Center.

Mr Center has previously served at the National Security Council, the State Department and as a senior fellow at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

He served as director for National Security Strategy and History at the NSC from 2017-2019, where he helped conceptualise and write the 2017 National Security Strategy.

Updated: January 05, 2023, 1:57 AM
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