Senate passes bill to boost US science and tech innovation to counter China

The US Capitol Building is seen shortly before sunset in Washington, US May 17, 2017. (Reuters photo)

The US Senate has overwhelmingly approved an expansive bill to boost the country’s ability to compete with Chinese technology.

The Senate, in a 68-32 vote on Tuesday, passed the measure intended to expand American semiconductor production and foster the development of artificial intelligence and other technology.

The move is one of the few bipartisan sentiments in an era of division in US Congress narrowly controlled by President Joe Biden's fellow Democrats.

Based on the measure, nearly $190 billion would be allotted to provisions to strengthen US technology and research in addition to $54 billion to increase US production and research into semiconductors and telecommunications equipment, which includes $2 billion dedicated to chips used by automakers.

If passes the House of Representatives, the bill, called the Innovation and Competition Act, will be sent to the White House for Biden to sign into law.

Biden said he was “encouraged” by the Senate’s passage of the legislation. “We are in a competition to win the 21st century, and the starting gun has gone off.”

“As other countries continue to invest in their own research and development, we cannot risk falling behind. America must maintain its position as the most innovative and productive nation on Earth.”

Among the anti-China provisions, there are ones which would forbid the social media app TikTok from being downloaded on government devices, and would block the purchase of drones manufactured and sold by companies allegedly supported by the Chinese government.

It would also allow diplomats and Taiwanese military to display their flag and wear their uniforms while in the US on official businesses. Moreover, it would create broad new mandatory sanctions on Chinese entities allegedly engaged in US cyberattacks or theft of US intellectual property from American firms.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a co-sponsor of the measure, warned of the dire consequences of failing to fund research to keep up with China.

"If we do nothing, our days as the dominant superpower may be ending. We don’t mean to let those days end on our watch. We don’t mean to see America become a middling nation in this century," Schumer said.

Meanwhile, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the funding could result in seven to 10 new US semiconductor plants.

Many US companies also praised the bill, including General Motors Co., which said the legislation "represents an important step to address the semiconductor shortage that continues to impact US automotive manufacturing."

The US and China are increasingly at odds over a range of issues, including alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong, China’s territorial claims on Chinese Taipei and most of the South China Sea as well as the origin of the coronavirus. 

China hoped for an improvement in relations under Biden, who succeeded Donald Trump in January, but the new administration has shown no sign of backing down on hardline policies toward China.

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