Top US Senate Democrat directs lawmakers to craft Bill to counter China

Top US Senate Democrat directs lawmakers to craft Bill to counter China

Package to boost US tech sector will focus on investments in areas such as semiconductors

WASHINGTON • United States Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday said he has directed lawmakers to craft a package of measures to counter China's rise, capitalising on bipartisan hardline sentiment on Beijing in Congress to strengthen the US tech sector and counter unfair practices.

He said he instructed committees to craft a bipartisan Bill based on legislation he proposed last year seeking US$100 billion (S$132 billion) in funding to spur research in key tech areas, from artificial intelligence (AI) to quantum computing.

This year's package would target investment in US manufacturing, science and technology, supply chains and semiconductors, he said, adding that he intends to have a Bill on the Senate floor by "this spring".

"Today on our caucus call, I directed the chairs and members of our relevant committees to start drafting a legislative package to out-compete China and create new American jobs," he said.

As part of the package, senators are also looking at providing emergency funding to implement bipartisan semiconductor programmes included in last year's National Defence Authorisation Act, which sets overall US military spending and the Pentagon policies backed by that spending.

"I want this Bill to address America's short-term and long-term plan to protect our semiconductor supply chain and keep us No. 1 in AI, 5G, quantum computing, biomedical research, storage - all of these things are part of the Bill," said Mr Schumer.

The legislative drive comes as Republican China hawks step up pressure on Democratic President Joe Biden to stick to his Republican predecessor Donald Trump's hardline policies on Beijing.

The Biden administration has said it is conducting a review of China programmes and promised a tough but more multilateral approach to Beijing.

Some US carmakers have slowed production due to a shortage of semiconductor chips, which are scarce in part due to a pandemic-era boom in consumer appetite for more cellphones and computers.

The Semiconductor Industry Association welcomed Mr Schumer's announcement and urged Mr Biden and Congress to invest "boldly" in domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research.

"Doing so will help keep the US on top in this foundational technology, while also strengthening America's economy, job creation, national security and critical infrastructure," the association's chief executive John Neuffer said.

BEEFING UP TECH SECTOR

“I want this Bill to address America's short-term and long-term plan to protect our semiconductor supply chain and keep us No. 1 in AI, 5G, quantum computing, biomedical research, storage - all of these things are part of the Bill.” U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER

Under the prior legislation the Bill will be modelled on, US$100 billion will be funnelled over five years through a new technology directorate to be installed at the National Science Foundation. An additional US$10 billion would be set aside for technology hubs.

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers was yesterday set to meet Mr Biden at the White House to discuss supply chain issues, including semiconductor chips.

Meanwhile, Senator Jeff Merkley said another bipartisan group of US senators is planning to revive legislation to counter Chinese censorship in the US.

"We must monitor and address the impact of China's censorship and intimidation of Americans and our companies, so we can create a strategy to safeguard this bedrock freedom and hold those accountable who suppress and destroy it," said Mr Merkley, who will soon be chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

The Bill is co-sponsored by Republicans Marco Rubio and John Cornyn, as well as Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

REUTERS