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

Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, Feb 23, 2021.
Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, Feb 23, 2021.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday (Feb 23) 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.

Schumer said at a weekly press conference that he has directed committees to craft a bipartisan Bill based on legislation he proposed last year seeking funding of US$100 billion (S$130 billion) to spur research in key tech areas, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing and semiconductors.

This year's package would target investment in US manufacturing, science and technology, supply chains and semiconductors, Schumer said, adding 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," Schumer said at the press conference.

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 up 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 (artificial intelligence), 5G (next generation communications network), quantum computing, biomedical research, storage, all of these things are part of the Bill," Schumer said.

The legislative drive comes as Republican China hawks have stepped 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.

The announcement also comes as some US automakers have slowed production due to a shortage of semiconductor chips, scarce in part due to a pandemic-era boom in consumer appetite for more cell phones and computers.

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