This timeline maps how the rhetoric of an ‘AI arms race’ between the US and China has increasingly been deployed by key stakeholders over the past five years, becoming institutionalized in AI policy discourse and reinforced through legislation and regulatory debates. In particular, the timeline shows how the AI arms race has been leveraged to pushback against regulatory intervention targeting Big Tech companies, such as on antitrust, data privacy, and algorithmic accountability.

Tracking the US and China AI Arms Race

November 13, 2017

Eric Schmidt gives keynote address at global security summit emphasising technological competition with China

“By 2020 they will have caught up. By 2025 they will be better than us, and by 2030 they will dominate the industries of AI.”

– Eric Schmidt, ex Google CEO, speaking at the 2017 Global Security Summit

AuGUST 13, 2018

National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence established, chaired by ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt

AUGUST 14, 2018

Facebook (Meta) CEO Mark Zuckerberg argues that privacy rights will make US tech fall behind Chinese competitors

September 26, 2018

Kai-Fu Lee, author of AI superpowers and ex-head of Google China, highlights growing chill in US/China tech relations

“I think cross-border will be very difficult,” he said. “I wouldn’t advise you to work for an American company trying to do business in China, or a Chinese company trying to do business in America — tech company anyway.”

– Kai Fu Lee (author, ML engineer and venture capitalist, ex Microsoft, ex Google)

January 26, 2019

President and CEO of the Atlantic Council argues that China is getting the upper hand in the AI arms race

“Though it is a tech race most Western executives feel is only on its first laps, they heard how President Xi had declared a sort of space race or Manhattan Project around AI that is already delivering measurable results.”

– Frederick Kempe (President and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlantic Council)

MARCH 8, 2019

CEO of Eye on AI claims that China’s authoritarian, Confucian culture gives them an edge in the AI arms race

“China is awash in data like no other country and with the Communist Party on one side and Confucian culture on the other, that data is being used to train AI systems with little of the resistance met in the West.”

– Craig Smith (former NYT journalist, CEO of Eye on AI, NSCAI podcast host)

MAy 23, 2019

Sheryl Sandberg, Eric Schmidt and other Big Tech leaders argue that antitrust law will decrease US competitiveness with China

“While people are concerned with the size and power of tech companies, there’s also a concern in the United States with the size and power of Chinese companies, and the realization that these companies are not going to be broken up.”

– Sheryl Sandberg

Augusts 19, 2020

Tech Consultant Claims Breaking Up Big Tech Would Make Communist China Stronger

“Any effort to punish or break apart the technology companies for political reasons would, in effect, dismember the golden goose of American innovation and competitiveness and feed its carcass to the People’s Republic of China.”

– Asheesh Agarwal (Tech Consultant); The Federalist (Conservative news outlet)


Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and an MIT computer professor publish a book about the ‘Age of AI’ and the importance of Big Tech

The book brings together Henry A. Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher, an eminent computer scientist and ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt to consider the advent of a so-called “age of AI”.

MAY 2021

The National Security Commission on AI Releases its Final Report, Claims that China’s AI development is a threat to all Americans

“The United States must act now to field AI systems and invest substantially more resources in AI innovation to protect its security, promote its prosperity, and safeguard the future of democracy.”

– Eric Schmidt (ex-Google CEO)

MAY 13, 2021

Two US Senators send letter to National Science Foundation urging that AI is developed in line with ‘American Values’

“AI leadership by the United States is only possible if AI research, innovation, and use is rooted in American values.”

– Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.); Rob Portman (R-Ohio),

JUNE 3, 2021

Executive Order on Addressing the Threat from Securities Investments that Finance Certain Companies of the People’s Republic of China

“the administration’s emphasis on China’s “military-industrial complex” (and “Chinese military-industrial complex companies”) could send the wrong message”

– President Joseph Biden

JULY 2021

Biden Administration Releases Executive Order on Competition to promote US Domestic Innovation against ‘Foreign Cartels’

“This order reasserts as United States policy that the answer to the rising power of foreign monopolies and cartels is not the tolerance of domestic monopolization, but rather the promotion of competition and innovation by firms small and large, at home and worldwide.”

– President Joseph Biden


Leading tech advocacy organisation publishes white paper critiquing antitrust bills as threat to US national security interests and the ‘innovation race’ with China

“The House of Representatives is considering several bills targeting leading U.S. technology firms with sweeping provisions that are in serious tension with the overall U.S. national innovation strategy to combat China and other adversaries.”

SEPTEMBER 15, 2021

12 former security officials publish letter arguing that US antitrust law undermines the US tech innovation system and makes China more competitive with the US

“We strongly believe it is in the best interest of our national and economic security to prevent China from achieving its objective of becoming the global leader in technological innovation.”

– Robert Cardillo, Dan Coats, Admiral James Foggo III, Richard H. Ledgett Jr., John D. Negroponte, Leon E. Panetta, Vice Admiral Jan E. Tighe, Frances Townsend, Susan M. Gordon, Michael Morell, Dr. Michael Vickers, Admiral James “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2021

12 former security officials who warned against US antitrust law revealed to have ties to Big Tech

“The warning last week from a dozen former national security leaders was stark: An antitrust crackdown on Silicon Valley could threaten the nation’s economy and “cede U.S. tech leadership to China.”

SEPTEMBER 22, 2021

Special Competitive Studies Project founded to address intensifying geopolitical competition with China and Russia in the “age of AI”.

“We want to ensure that America is positioned and organized to win the techno-economic competition between now and 2030, the critical window for shaping the future.” “Technology competition has become a key element of a systemic competition over world over.”


Microsoft ends partnership with leading Chinese drone company DJI after it is sanctioned by the US Treasury

“It has also been rumored that Microsoft has stopped recruiting from some Chinese universities.”


White House names AI on its Critical and Emerging Technologies list of tech that could inform national security activities

Congress establishes the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, chaired by ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

JUNE 7, 2022

The Pentagon’s new digital and AI chief asks Eric Schmidt for help solving the DOD’s software problem

Congress establishes the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, chaired by ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

JUNE 13, 2022

Senator Rand Paul argues that protecting the US free market for Big Tech is essential for competing with China

“Politicians who are fretting about China’s drive for global economic dominance should think twice before dismantling the U.S. firms that invest heavily in artificial intelligence and can compete worldwide.”

– Rand Paul (Republican Senator, Kentucky)

JULY 16, 2022

Eric Schmidt and Harvard profesor argue that Biden needs to launch a huge tech recruitment program to compete with China

“Immigration is the United States’ secret sauce—including in its competition with China.”

– Graham Allison, a professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School

AUGUST 9, 2022

Bipartisan CHIPS act is passed, blocking certain chip exports to China, reducing its ability to make semiconductors

“The Act also includes safeguards to ensure that recipients of Federal funds from these programs cannot build advanced semiconductor production facilities in countries that present a national security concern.”

– Biden administration


Succeeding in the AI Competition with China: A Strategy for Action

“Technology is at the center of the emerging competition between the United States and China, with far-reaching consequences for democratic societies.”

– Brookings


Two US senators send the director of national intelligence a letter of concern regarding a proposed partnership between Apple and Chinese chipmaker Yangtze Memory Technologies Co

“Such a decision would introduce significant privacy and security vulnerabilities to the global digital supply chain that Apple helps shape given YMTC’s extensive, but often opaque, ties to the Chinese Communist party.”

– Mark Warner (Democratic chair of Senate intelligence committee); Marco Rubio (Republican Vice Chair)


Special Competitive Studies Project releases first report framing US-China competition as the “defining feature of world politics today”

“The epicenter of the competition is the quest for leadership and dominant market share in a constellation of emerging technologies that will underpin a thriving society, growing economy, and sharper instruments of power.”

– Mark Warner (Democratic chair of Senate intelligence committee); Marco Rubio (Republican Vice Chair)


US Chamber of Commerce VP Jordan Crenshaw flags AI arms race at House Subcommittee on Trustworthy AI

“When it comes to AI, we’re in a race we must win…We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and allows those who do not share our democratic values set the standard for the world”

– Jordan Crenshaw (VP Chamber of Commerce)

SEPTEMBER 29, 2022

Advancing American AI Act directly cites recommendations from the NSCAI and emphasises restricting Chinese tech

“Another amendment seeks to share technology and other military equipment with Taiwan to further the U.S.’s economic partnership with the island, while the Israel-U.S. AI partnership would prohibit working with any entity that is linked to China.”

– Rob Portman (Republican Senator, Ohio); Gary Peters (Democrat Senator, Michigan)


Brief about Emerging Non-European Monopolies in the Global AI Market highlights US’ and China’s lead

Argues that all of the cutting-edge general purpose AI models have been developed outside of the EU, with a focus on US and Chinese institutions.

– Rob Portman (Republican Senator, Ohio); Gary Peters (Democrat Senator, Michigan)


U.S. expands bans of Chinese security cameras and network equipment, citing national security threat

“The Federal Communications Commission voted 4-0 to ban sales of new telecom and surveillance equipment made by several Chinese companies, arguing that their ownership and practices threaten U.S. national security.”


NOVEMBER 4, 2022

President of the Information Tech and Innovation Foundation critiques antitrust law as threat to national competitiveness

“They don’t think about the implications of their actions on US competitiveness. Their only goal is to think about whether it is going to lead to more competition”

– Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

NOVEMBER 9, 2022

Former Trade Policy Counsel argues that antitrust crackdowns on Big Tech will hurt the US in competition with China

“Today, Beijing is trying to supplant the United States as the global leader for the commanding heights of technology. Healthy competition should be welcomed, but Beijing’s methods are unsavory.”

– Clark Packard (Former Trade Policy Counsel, Finance Insurance & Trade)


Fortune frames ChatGPT as part of the AI arms race between the US and China

“ChatGPT is a salvo in a growing generative A.I. ‘arms race’ between the U.S. and China”

– Fortune

NOVEMBER 4, 2022

FBI director argues China’s AI program will be weaponised against the US at Davos

“The Chinese government has a bigger hacking program than any other nation in the world.”

– Christopher Wray (FBI Director)

March 2023

US Chamber of Commerce Report on AI Explicitly Cites Threat of China’s Rise As Driving Factor Behind US AI Innovation Plans, Promotes Private-Military US Partnerships in Response

“To capitalize on American ingenuity, Congress and the Pentagon must look at streamlining acquisition processes and finding new ways of incorporating industry expertise and experience within the military enterprise”

– US Chamber of Commerce Commission on Artificial Intelligence Competitiveness, Inclusion, and Innovation

March 29, 2023

Republican Chair of House China Select Committee Claims CCP Using AI to Create Orwellian Surveillance State

“Gallagher said his “primary concern” is that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will use the technology to “perfect” and “export” its authoritarian model beyond its borders”

– Mike Gallagher (Republican)

APRIL, 2023

South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan accuses FTC of collaborating with foreign regulators and harming US companies

“Why should we increase your budget when you are sending staff to Europe to harm US companies and help China?”

– Jeff Duncan (Republican)

APRIL, 2023

US Senator and Tech CTO claim that an AI ‘pause’ would empower AI competitors like China

“China has already said that these generative models must display socialist characteristics,” Sankar said of China’s work on AI. “It must not enable the overthrow of the state. These sorts of constraints that are being baked in, to the extent that that becomes the standard AI for the world, is highly problematic.”

– Mike Rounds (Senator, South Dakota, Senate Armed Services Subcommittee); Shyam Sankar (CTO of Palantir)

APRIL 2023

“I actually emerged from that day cautiously optimistic that we could put in place some sensible controls on American capital flowing to China that would allow us to not fund our own destruction or fund our own loss in the great AI race”

– Mike Gallagher (Republican, Wisconsin and Chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party)

JULY 2023

Tech CEO warns House Armed Services Committee that US needs to increase military spending to compete with China

“The country that is able to most rapidly and effectively integrate new technology into war-fighting wins”

– Alexandr Wang (CEO of Scale AI)

JULy 2023

Ted Cruz claims US regulators must move with caution so not to stifle AI innovation and fall behind China

“I believe that we need a comprehensive strategy for dealing with China, much like we had under Ronald Reagan for dealing with the Soviet Union and for ultimately winning the Cold War”

– Ted Cruz (Republican, Texas)

July 2023

National Defense Industrial Association reports that U.S. is falling behind China in crucial race for tech patents

“The United States is falling behind China in the core science as measured by the patents granted in each country”

– National Defense Industrial Association

July 2023

Head of CIA gives lecture saying that US must harness AI in light of geopolitical competition between US and China

“We have to do it faster and better than they do”

– William Burns (Head of the CIA)

July 2023

Pete Buttigieg, transportation secretary, highlights national security concerns about Chinese autonomous vehicle companies

“Whether we are talking about hardware or software, in the same way there are concerns around telecom or TikTok, there are concerns around transportation technologies”

– Pete Buttigieg (transportation secretary)

July 2023

FBI director argues that Chinese AI poses “unparalleled” threat to the US

“Describing China as a threat “unparalleled among foreign adversaries” that has a bigger hacking program than “every other major nation combined,” Wray said that the sheer volume of personal and corporate data stolen by China, mixed with the power of AI, spells big trouble”

– Christopher Wray (FBI director)

July 2023

CEO of Palantir argues for stronger ties between Palantir and US government to maintain US geopolitical dominance in a NYT op-ed

“This is an arms race of a different kind”

– Alexander Karp (CEO of Palantir)

July 2023

Three-star Air Force general says the U.S. military’s approach to artificial intelligence is more ethical than adversaries’ because it is a “Judeo-Christian society”

The future of AI in war depends on “who plays by the rules of warfare and who doesn’t. There are societies that have a very different foundation than ours”

– Lt. Gen. Richard G. Moore Jr (Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs)

August 2023

ex Joint Chief of Staff, ex CIA deputy Director, and ex White House counterterrorism and homeland security advisor argue that the US must embrace public-private partnerships to win the tech race against China

“Success here requires that we give a seat at the policy table to America’s private sector companies”

– Joseph Dunford (ex Joint Chief of Staff), Frances F. Townsend (ex White House counterrorism and homeland security advisor), Michael Morell (ex CIA deputy director, 2010-2013)

August 2023

Biden signs executive order restricting US investment into Chinese tech

“Rapid advancement in semiconductors and microelectronics, quantum information technologies, and artificial intelligence capabilities by these countries significantly enhances their ability to conduct activities that threaten the national security of the United States”

– Joseph Biden (US President)

September 2023

SCSP releases first of six memos on generative AI, asserting that Gen AI is central to the US’ ‘innovation power’ and to economic/military competition with China

“The paramount determinant of success in the technology competition between the United States and China lies in each nation’s ability to wield innovation power at an unparalleled speed, unmatched quality, and unrivaled scale”

– Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP)

Key Figures

Sheryl Sandberg


Eric Schmidt


Kai-Fu Lee