Joe Biden presses US Congress to finalise bill to fund tech, compete with China

  • ‘This bipartisan innovation bill will allow us to stamp more products “Made in America”. It’s going to bolster our national security and our economic security’
  • A timeline for when a compromise version of the legislation might be completed is unclear

US President Joe Biden urged Congress on Wednesday to hurry up and pass a final, compromise version of sweeping legislation meant to strengthen US competitiveness against China.

“The bottom line is this bipartisan innovation bill will allow us to stamp more products ‘Made in America’. It’s going to bolster our national security and our economic security,” said Biden.

The comments come as Washington remains consumed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which will soon enter a third week of intense fighting, but the Biden administration has insisted throughout the war that it will not be distracted from other priorities in the world, including China.

The legislation, which the White House is now calling the Bipartisan Innovation Act, would include potentially US$52 billion in funding for the US semiconductor industry – a crucial technology used in everything from cars to computers, which Washington and Beijing are both racing to master.

“There’s perhaps no production more important than reclaiming America’s leadership and owning our future than semiconductors,” said Biden, who spoke at the White House alongside US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and a group of business executives and state governors.

The bill would also potentially include new science and technology research funding in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum computing. The Biden administration has warned that the US must spend more money on research if it wants to win any economic competition with Beijing.

Both chambers of the US Congress have passed their own versions of the legislation – the Senate last summer, and the House of Representatives in early February – but congressional aides have said it could take weeks or more before a final, compromise version of the bill is finished.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote to congressional leaders on Tuesday urging them to move quickly to start formal negotiations, known in Congress as a “conference”, and to make sure the final bill includes full funding for the US semiconductor industry.

A congressional aide familiar with the process said the conference was expected to begin soon. An exact timeline for when it might finish is unclear, especially because the bills are so large – more than 5,000 pages combined.

Biden himself has signalled that the legislation is a priority for him. The president urged Congress to pass the bill during his State of the Union address on March 1.

“Send it to my desk,” he said in the speech. “I’ll sign it.”

The bills also include a range of provisions targeting China that go beyond economic competition.

Both versions of the legislation included new sanctions on officials related to suspected human rights abuses against Uygurs and other ethnic minorities in China’s far-west Xinjiang region.

They also included new policies designed to strengthen American alliances in the Pacific, and the US relationship with Taiwan.

The House version included a line directing the State Department to work with Taiwan to change the name of its de facto embassy in Washington from the “Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office” to the “Taiwan Representative Office in the United States” – a move certain to infuriate Beijing, which views self-governed Taiwan as its own territory.

It is unclear which provisions will remain in the final bill once the House and Senate are finished negotiating.

Author: Jacob Fromer, SCMP

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