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Visitors look at an Alibaba quantum computer at a conference in Hangzhou, China, in October. Photo: Long Wei/VCG via Getty Images

The race for quantum supremacy isn't just between tech companies, but between nation-states as well.

Why it matters: The first country to produce effective, working quantum computers will have a key advantage in economics, defense and cybersecurity — and the U.S., China, and Europe are all competing.

What's happening: Last month, the Commerce Department added a dozen Chinese companies to a trade blacklist in an effort to prevent emerging U.S. technologies from being used for quantum computing efforts that would boost Beijing's military.

  • It was the latest move in a tech trade war between Washington and Beijing that has national security implications, and one that is increasingly spilling over into the realm of quantum computing.
  • "The United States is quite a ways ahead in many areas [of quantum] and we have a lot of talent," says Laura Thomas, a former CIA case officer and the director of national security solutions for ColdQuanta.
  • "But China is catching up in closing that gap very quickly," she says

The big picture: One of the clearest uses of quantum computing is to eventually break the complex mathematical problems used to encrypt information of all kinds on the internet, including sensitive government data.

  • That's not yet possible with today's quantum computers, but it could well be within a decade or less. In the meantime, nations are likely intercepting and storing data now with the expectation that they'll be able to decrypt it in the future.

Between the lines: While U.S. companies generally have the lead on building better quantum computers, China has invested massively in the industry, including an $11 billion national laboratory for quantum information sciences.

  • Chinese researchers have made breakthroughs on quantum communications, including via satellite, and Chinese companies dominate patent applications for quantum cryptography.
  • But in part because Chinese researchers don't publish as often as their Western counterparts — and because travel in and out of the country has been highly limited during COVID-19 — "we don't have a lot of visibility into what they're doing," says Peter Chapman, president and CEO of quantum computer company IonQ.

What to watch: Progress on American efforts to develop post-quantum cryptography standards that would resist more powerful quantum computers, as well as research from the five new quantum institutes created by the White House last year.

The bottom line: "The economy for the next hundred years will be driven by quantum," says Chapman. "So it's not a game we want to lose."

Go deeper

Updated Dec 19, 2021 - Economy & Business

Omicron derails company holiday parties

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

It looked like corporate Christmas parties would get the green light this year after virtual soirees in 2020 — but along came Omicron.

Driving the news: Companies of every size and across the world are rethinking their holiday bashes as the Omicron winter wave rolls in. And a popular new option is putting the ball in workers' courts by planning hybrid parties.

Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.

Oath Keepers leader denied bail on Capitol riot sedition charge

Oath Keepers co-founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

A federal judge ordered Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday until trial on charges stemming from the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The judge said the most prominent far-right figure charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection had access to weapons and his alleged "continued advocacy for violence against the federal government" gave credence to prosecutors' view that, if released, Rhodes could endanger others.