How does the U.S. plan on winning? We’re not just talking about sanctions and military superiority!
Last week, China celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. During a speech celebrating the centenary, General Secretary Xi Jinping declared that China’s army must become one of the most powerful in the world. His words come at a time when the U.S. is exerting maximum effort to outdo China. Washington, D.C., is allocating an increasing amount of its budget to compete with China, not only in the military sphere, but also in science and technology.
America’s rivalry with China is one of the few points on which Democrats and Republicans agree. Both parties believe that Beijing is the biggest threat to American leadership. In the beginning of June, the U.S. Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (voting 68-32). This act will determine the American political agenda on China for years to come.
The act allocates an enormous part of the federal budget to American scientific and engineering efforts. This means that the U.S. will build new centers of technology, increase the number of scholarships and grants, and fight systemic sexism in the STEM community. According to American lawmakers, this is the only way that the U.S. can surpass China, which has had great technological innovation success — from artificial intelligence to space exploration.
President Joe Biden voiced his support for the act, and said that the U.S. is “in a competition to win the 21st century.” He promised to sign the act if the House of Representatives passes it. [
The End Justifies the Means
Not all American politicians support the act, even those who agree that Beijing poses a serious threat to Washington. For example, Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida are certain that China is not as threatening to America as huge federal debt. The two senators believe that the act requires too much money from the federal budget, money that will have to be paid back sooner or later.
But it seems that Biden does not see this as a problem. According to Biden, it’s better to spend now, when national interest rates are low, and pay later, when the investments have paid themselves off. From the very beginning of his term, Biden has not hesitated to spend generously for government needs. He is ready to allocate trillions of dollars to infrastructure, education and the fight against climate change. Overall, Biden considers standing up to China another important and strategic investment.
The Senate has allotted $250 billion to implement the act. Oddly enough, $52 billion will fund the development of semiconductor production in an attempt to “fight dependence on Chinese companies and technologies.”
Since 1990, the U.S. share of global semiconductor manufacturing has decreased from 37% to 12%, and a shortage of microchips pointed to the faults in supply chains. The majority of all microchips in the world (which are necessary to produce computers) are manufactured in Taiwan, an independent island that China considers part of its territory.
Recently, Beijing has expressed serious irritation with any and all conversations about Taiwanese independence. Chinese airplanes are starting to fly through Taiwanese airspace more frequently, while the appearance of American ships in the Taiwan Strait has elicited the anger of Chinese diplomats. In his centenary speech, Xi did not forget to mention Taiwan. In particular, he promised to “deliver a massive stroke against all attempts to establish the island’s independence.”
Defense of Taiwan remains a crucial priority for American foreign policy. In fact, support for the Taiwanese government is one of the provisions of the Innovation and Competition Act. The act calls for the U.S. to strengthen its ties with Taipei and other American military allies in the Pacific region.
Aside from microchips and Taiwan, the act also outlines the possibility of imposing new sanctions against Chinese officials for human rights violations in Xinjiang, intellectual property theft and cyberattacks. The act forbids American officials from visiting the winter Olympic games in Beijing in 2022. Furthermore, it has declared the Chinese policy with respect to Uighurs to be genocide.
Work for All of Congress
In order for the Innovation and Competition Act to become law, it must pass the House. However, the House is developing several of its own bills regarding U.S. rivalry with China. The largest of these projects is the so-called EAGLE Act, which stands for Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement, and which covers nearly the entire range of Chinese-American relations, from technological rivalry to the support of democratic movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
But bipartisan cooperation has experienced a setback here. Republicans have refused to support the EAGLE Act because, aside from addressing the American relationship with China, it also contains a budget for the fight against climate change. Republican opinion holds that ecology has no bearing on Chinese-American relations, while Democrats argue that success in the “green” sphere is as important to the U.S. as military or scientific success. In short, the EAGLE Act has been sent back to its author, Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks, for some editing. A new version will not appear before September.
At the end of June, the House passed two bills that will fund future scientific and experimental design research. Both bills are expected to help the U.S. stand up to China more effectively when it comes to scientific research. The first bill, the National Science Foundation for the Future Act, will increase funding for the National Science Foundation and create a new Directorate of Technology and Innovation. The second bill, the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act, will invest in and finance more research at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
Beijing reacts negatively to such bills and views the phrase “Chinese threat” as harmful.
Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has said that “the goal of China’s development is the desire to give the Chinese people an opportunity to live better and more happily.” He has also called American pronouncements about Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet a rude intrusion into China’s internal affairs.
“We firmly call on the American Congress to look at China’s development and Chinese-American relations objectively and rationally, to immediately stop consideration of the Innovation and Competition Act and put an end to all involvement in China’s internal affairs, so as not to harm Chinese-American relations overall and the two countries’ cooperation in key areas,” the Chinese diplomat said.
For politicians in Washington, American rivalry with China is becoming the foundation on which ideologically opposed Democrats and Republicans can come together for a common purpose.
“But there’s also a fundamental difference between how many on the left and right perceive the nature of the China challenge. Is it really about climate change? Influence efforts? Capital flows? Technology funding? Military hardware? Human rights promotion? The truth is that the China challenge encompasses all of these issues — and many more,” writes Josh Rogin, a columnist for The Washington Post.
Rogin notes that division within the U.S. will continue until both sides realize this truth and set aside their political differences. According to Rogin, this state of affairs discredits the arguments that democracy is a worthy system to strategically stand against the People’s Republic of China.
The American publication, The Hill, points out that laws such as the Innovation and Competition Act have no relationship to attacks on China and are necessary to solve roblems within America itself.
“Confronting the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, poor labor conditions, military excursions and instances of predatory aid are all fundamentally progressive positions that reinforce American values,” writes Nina Palmer, a senior fellow for China at the Center of American Progress.
In any case, no comprehensive law has been passed addressing the American contest with China. Lawmakers continue to seek compromise and negotiate. Certainly such a law will appear eventually. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that the main criterion by which a country’s superiority will be judged in the 21st century will be scientific discovery and technological innovation. Falling behind China in this sphere threatens the U.S. with not only economic loss, but ideological loss as well.