By Doug Kelly
As Russia and China’s authoritarian leaders meet today to renew their friendship with “no limits,” a new bipartisan report should serve as a warning to Washington lawmakers to reject anti-innovation legislation lest we cede the battle for global technology leadership to our adversaries.
The authors of the report, titled “Mid-Decade Challenges to National Competitiveness,” interviewed more than 600 experts in technology and national security. They found that over just a few decades, the United States came “perilously and unwittingly close to ceding the strategic technology landscape” to China. In a report geared toward policymakers, the authors note that the causes include reactive policymaking and a disconnect between private sector technology strength and national needs.
While the United States has regained some lost ground in the past five years, the study finds that the United States is either trailing or only slightly ahead of China in the three technological battlegrounds that will shape the future: microelectronics, 5G wireless, and artificial intelligence. China continues to invest heavily to win, and the authors urge the United States to keep up or fall behind.
The consequences of losing this tech battle, the authors note, would be painful and perhaps permanent: (1) China would dominate the economy of the future and capture trillions of dollars’ worth of value from new technologies; (2) China could cut off the supply of leading-edge microchips from Taiwan; (3) the U.S.’s digital infrastructure would become cyber-compromised; (4) digital oppression would replace digital freedom across the globe; and (5) the U.S. military’s technological edge would erode – all as authoritarian regimes trumpet their mastery of the modern world.
According to the study, winning this competition will require the United States to partner with its Western allies to cooperatively develop techno-industrial strength, leverage the benefits of its private-sector technology platforms, and develop a foreign policy to win this tech battle. Fortunately, the public is already on board with these concepts. A new international poll by the American Edge Project found that an overwhelming majority of voters on both sides of the Atlantic agree that China and Russia’s growing technological influence threatens their country’s national security (76% in United States, 72% in Europe) and economy (76% in United States, 70% in Europe). Moreover, across America and Europe, voters support greater transatlantic cooperation with each other to protect their technological edge, economy, and national security.
Despite these stark warnings and public opposition, the anti-innovation bills before Congress would target America’s top private sector tech platforms with onerous new regulations that would hamstring innovation at a time when we need their expertise the most. The negative impact would be felt industry wide, but those same rules wouldn’t apply to China. As one leading national security expert wrote, “antitrust reforms … would not only seriously constrain the operations of Big Tech companies but undermine the foundations of the advanced technology ecosystem. While U.S. companies would be hampered with respect to innovation, operations, investments, relationships, and the security of software and programs, Chinese companies would be free to operate in the United States and even take advantage of provisions in some of the proposed legislation to conduct espionage, engage in propaganda activities, and steal intellectual property.”
Undermining the very foundations of tech innovation is no way to win a high stakes battle with China – especially when the Department of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have all issued public reports warning about the growing tech strength of China, its investments in innovation, and its desires for global technology supremacy.
Instead of undermining America’s tech industry, Congress should focus on accelerating domestic innovation and taking the necessary measures to check China’s capabilities and ambitions. The CHIPS+ bill was a wise down payment in boosting U.S. tech capacity, but much more work remains to ensure America’s innovation edge continues in the decades ahead. For additional ideas, see the American Edge Project’s Economic Policy Agenda to Accelerate American Innovation.