With Russia Mired In Ukraine, Tech Bill Targeting China Gains Traction

While the United States remains marked by partisan division, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has proven to be a unifying force for Democrats and Republicans around the shared interest of future national security.

Congress has passed a number of bills aimed at combatting Russia in its attack on Ukraine, and most members continue to express ongoing support for these measures.

However, while Russia will continue to stand as a top threat, its failure to swiftly take Ukraine has reduced the perception of the danger it poses. Department of Defense Comptroller Mike McCord affirmed on March 28 said that "China is the number one issue to keep our eye on."

That could put China in the "shared enemy" role. In the coming weeks, the House and Senate stand poised to discuss the Senate Innovation and Competition Act and the House America COMPETES Act, which could see up to $350 billion invested in programs aimed to push the nation ahead of China.

"We want to make sure that we lead in technology, not China, in A.I., in quantum computing, in clean technology, in synthetic biology, in semiconductor manufacturing, in electronics manufacturing," Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California, who helped putting together the House version, told Newsweek. "This is a massive investment in all of those areas,"

"We've seen it with the supply chain crisis. We've been so dependent on products overseas, and that's led in part to the inflation, it's led to the shortages," Khanna added. "We don't want to be dependent on global supply chains for critical equipment."

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Chinese President
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Chinese President Xi Jinping during their bilateral meeting on November 13, 2019 in Brazil. As the U.S. focuses on great power competition, competing with China has become an even greater priority. Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

At its current pace, China is set to surpass the United States in research and development spending by 2025, the South China Morning Post reported in July 2021. Already, the country tops the U.S. as the world's biggest high-tech manufacturer, according to a report by Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Khanna said that by making these investments the U.S. will become less reliant on China as a player in its tech economy, giving the country greater leverage in implementing economic sanctions should it find itself in conflict with its top adversary.

At the moment, the U.S. could be in serious economic trouble were it to find itself facing off against China as it is against Russia. China has laid claim to Taiwan, the world's leading semiconductor manufacturer, and if Taiwan were comprised, the U.S. could find itself in difficulties.

Heidi Crebo-Rediker, who specializes in U.S. economic competitiveness as an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Newsweek that semiconductor chips serve an essential role in U.S. consumer and defense technology as well as in its automotive, industrial, and communication arenas. The competition bills would invest in shoring up this potential liability by creating manufacturing plants at home.

In addition to bridging this gap, she said the bill would better prevent China from leveraging its capabilities in other economic arenas to influence U.S. decisions, all the while putting the country on track to attain its place as an innovation leader of the 21st century.

"China has not been shy about using its dominance in any particular industry to cut off critical supplies," Crebo-Rediker told Newsweek. "I think that the ambition really is to make sure that the U.S. continues to have federal support for research and innovation that will lay the foundation for the U.S. economy to strengthen into the 21st century."

Khanna also emphasized that beyond competing with China, the bill is about strengthening the economy, something that he said will also play a vital role in the nation's security in the years to come.

One of Khanna's primary imprints on the bill lies in the legislation's "Regional Technology and Innovation Hub Program," which invests in research and workforce development programs outside of the country's top tech centers.

This came out of Khanna's Endless Frontier Act, a bill he introduced in April 2021 after being inspired by the writings of economists John Gruber and Simon Johnson, who argue in their book "Jump-Starting America" that federal investments in science and technology can spur economic growth.

Ro Khanna
Congressman Ro Khanna said the book “Jump-Starting America," which argues federal investments in science and technology can spur economic growth, inspired parts of the bill. Here, he speaks at Go Bigger on Climate, Care, and Justice! on July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network

"What we have to focus on are policies that are going to increase production in this country and that are both deflationary and create good paying jobs," Khanna told Newsweek. "Inflation is just too much money chasing too few goods. If you have more goods, more production, you're actually having a deflationary impact. We see this with building more semiconductor chips."

On April 25, Congress will return to work after a two-week break. Khanna said that he hopes the bill will make it to President Joe Biden's desk "as soon as possible." And with its bipartisan appeal, he believes it stands a good chance of passage.

However, Jennifer Hillman, co-director of the Center on Inclusive Trade and Development at Georgetown University Law School, warns the bill could be held up if Congress cannot come together on two key points contained in the House version of the bill.

The first is a provision that bars intellectual property-violating countries from receiving "duty free" import tax breaks. This would mean all shipments coming from China, a violator, would have to pay duties.

The second is a provision that would require the screening of outbound investments by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an agency that reviews the national security implications of foreign investments. This would raise questions, she said, regarding the free movement of money.

Ultimately though, despite these potential sticking points, she remains confident that the bill will make it to the president's desk for signature.

"I think at the end of the day it will emerge from conference and will pass," Hillman told Newsweek. "It is essential, and I think there's a lot for everyone to be pleased with."