“If he decides to step up — he and his administration — and is really hard on China moving forward, I look forward to working with him on making sure that we out-innovate, out-compete, and out-grow the Chinese, and also starve them of the capital that they need to continue to build their slaveholder state and their blue-water navy,” Young said.
Young is not alone in his assessment. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been stoking support for action aimed at China, with a goal of getting bipartisan legislation on the floor in spring.
Schumer said the package needs three elements: Enhancing U.S. competitiveness on manufacturing and innovation; bolstering U.S. partnerships with NATO and India; and new measures to “expose, curb and end, once in for all, China’s predatory practices.”
“On the China bill, we have good bipartisan support,” Schumer. D-N.Y., told reporters on Tuesday, saying he has instructed committee chairs to “work with your Republican colleagues” to get this over the finish line.
His counterpart also sees an opening.
“If any issue is ripe for a regular-order bipartisan process, it is this one,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday, adding that military spending is a “crucial first step” and semiconductors and science research are openings for compromise.
Schumer and Young are co-sponsors of the Endless Frontier Act, which would commit over $100 billion to promote emerging technologies that China’s government is working to promote as well, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing and robotics.
The version introduced in the previous Congress drew an eclectic mix of sponsors, including conservatives like Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., moderates like Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Blue Dog Democrats like Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and coastal liberals like Sen. Jeff Merkley, R-Ore.
“It’s a positive answer to a lot of the anxieties about the rise of China,” said co-sponsor Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., an influential policy voice among progressives who represents Silicon Valley and has warned of China’s “authoritarian capitalism” in speeches.
The agreement could still be scuttled by politics.
There are also concerns over how to approach the issue with sensitivity amid fears anti-China sentiment could contribute to racist attacks against Asian Americans.
“Officials should be extremely precise when describing the government of China as opposed to the Chinese, because I think that given what’s happening in U.S. society to Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans we owe everyone that kind of precision” Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said in a hearing on Thursday.
‘Win the 21st century’
Washington is being pushed to find consensus on China, observers in both parties say.
The crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement, the abuse of minority Uyghurs, widening surveillance state, and confrontations with American companies over speech have shocked both parties. Military hawks are worried about China’s stance toward allies like Taiwan and whether its expanding tech companies could undermine national security.
The rise of Trump in the GOP and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party have elevated voices more willing to subsidize industry at home aimed at countering China’s own domestic investment. Some on the left see an opportunity to build support for key climate priorities, like advancing clean energy and electric vehicles, as part of an effort to outpace similar efforts in China.
China’s handling of the early coronavirus outbreak within its borders worsened tensions while the disruption to worldwide supply chains raised concerns about whether the U.S. had become too dependent on manufacturers abroad for things like medical supplies, either in China or elsewhere.
“There’s an understanding that what allowed us to win the Cold War with the Soviet Union was our Sputnik moment, where we had 2 percent of GDP going to science and technology,” Khanna said. “We’re not going to win the 21st century if we fall behind China on critical technologies.”