COMPASS: Can the Senate take on China?

May 17th, 2021

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill, where most of DC’s COVID capacity restrictions will be lifted or reduced starting on May 21. Last week, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks indoors, but says that students, who are at lower risk than vaccinated adults, should continue wearing masks for the remainder of the school year.

The House and Senate are both in session this week. The Senate is taking its first procedural vote on the Endless Frontier Act, a bill authorizing more than $110 billion for basic and advanced technology research in the face of rising competitive pressure from China. Research areas that will receive funding include artificial intelligence (AI), semiconductors, quantum computing, advanced communications, biotechnology and advanced energy.

The fields of advanced quantum computing, physics, and AI are key areas of competition between the US and China. In AI, in particular, it is tantamount to an arms race, in that whichever country reaches sector dominance first will effectively transform and control the world’s technology economy. China has announced its intent to become the world leader in AI by 2030.

The US has largely relied on a strategy of working with our national technology giants, particularly Google and Microsoft, and funding their areas of research. The Endless Frontier Act intends to supplement that approach. However, the bill does not account for the fact that companies like Google, in particular, are itching to get into Chinese markets. Google, which receives US taxpayer dollars to research AI for the American government, has recently opened an AI office in Beijing.

Moreover, American universities face threats from Chinese attempts to leverage American professors — and Chinese professors teaching in America — into conduits for intellectual and economic espionage. In January, 2020, Harvard University professor Charles Lieber was charged for lying about his ties to a Chinese recruitment program and concealing payments he received from the Chinese Communist government for research. In a separate case, two Chinese nationals on J-1 visas (a work and study based exchange visa) were charged with economic espionage, and acting as an agent of a foreign government.

US regulators have also had to change their approach to Chinese companies like Huawei and TikTok, which, though claiming to be private enterprises, take direction from the Chinese Communist state. China, in addition to other foreign governments, donates millions to U.S. think tanks in an effort to influence policy formation.

In other words, the threat China poses as a geopolitical and economic competitor is real, large, and growing — but not limited solely to the research space. The policy approach to China must be as all encompassing as the threat itself.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court announced this week that it will hear a major abortion case next term, when it will consider the legality of a Mississippi abortion law which bans abortion after 15 weeks. In this case, SCOTUS will consider whether its previous precedents, which allow abortion prior to fetal viability are unconstitutional.

The right-leaning judicial approach to abortion has received some new scrutiny recently. Legal scholar John Finnis argued in First Things that a proper interpretation of the 14th Amendment should render abortion unconstitutional. Ed Whelan, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, rebutted Finnis, arguing that abortion policy should be decided by the states. Josh Craddock, with the James Wilson Institute, supported Finnis’s argument here.

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The 2021 Constitution Bowl, sponsored by the US Constitution Scholarship Foundation, begins tonight at 6:30pm.  And don’t miss CPI’s Phil Reboli breaking down the Biden administration’s new attempt to redefine “firearm.”