Senators push for free world to coordinate tech policy to counter China

A bipartisan group of senators wants a new alliance with democratic countries to develop rules of the road in tech to counter China’s dominance in artificial intelligence, 5G, and quantum computing. 

Eight senators proposed the Democracy Technology Partnership Act to establish a new agency within the State Department to develop international standards for tech, including investment screening and guidelines for research and development. The act would also create a $5 billion fund for joint projects between governments, universities, and companies from the participating countries.  

The Democratic chairs of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Robert Menendez of New Jersey respectively, partnered with an unlikely pairing of Republicans and Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrat; and GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Todd Young of Indiana, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Jon Cornyn of Texas have joined forces on the legislation to battle China

Mr. Schumer said both parties agreed on the need to compete with China and want democracies to have the competitive edge. 

“In order to compete and counter the expansion of Chinese dominance in critical technology sectors, we need to create a strategy that leverages the power of American partnerships to protect and advance our technological edge,” said Mr. Warner in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will help foster partnerships among the U.S. and like-minded democratic countries to better protect and compete against China in critical emerging technologies while helping set global rules, standards, and protocols for the market.”

The new office created by the bill within the State Department would coordinate tech strategies among free countries to counter China and other authoritarian regimes. The senators say the U.S. is at risk of falling behind China on technologies of the future, which prompted them to act urgently to ensure China does not develop technological supremacy. 

The proposal won plaudits from former national security and diplomatic officials, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. 

“The United States needs a national strategy for innovation, and this legislation outlines an essential element in that larger strategy: a coalition of democratic countries to coordinate on defense of technologies, set standards, and develop common policies for emerging technologies,” said retired U.S. special operations commander Adm. William McRaven in a statement. 

The push for a national innovation strategy appears consistent with the findings of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence’s final report to Congress earlier this week. The commission, which was created by a 2018 defense bill, recommended spending billions of taxpayer dollars on artificial intelligence now or risk losing key ground to China going forward. 

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