The Chinese Communist Party's actions threaten the principles of democracy and freedom that have brought peace and prosperity to much of the world. The 21st Century is shaping to be a defining moment for America. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are demonstrating their strong willingness to work together in addressing the complexities of the modern world, with a forward-thinking attitude to tackle any challenges that arise in the future.
To that end, Congress took a big step last week, establishing the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, sending a strong signal of bipartisanship we could expect on China policy in the 118th Congress.
This committee, chaired by Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI), will hold crucial responsibility in addressing the challenges posed by the CCP. So far, Gallagher has signaled that he recognizes the importance of a united effort and forward-thinking mindset to tackle these challenges and create a better future for the next generation. And for good reason. To succeed, this committee must address pressing challenges that have often divided Congress in the past.
Nations have been vying for technological advancements throughout history – but the pace of those advancements means the shifts in superiority can be swift. In this dynamic environment, those championing democracy must strive to remain competitive by not only being in command of emerging technologies, but also by advancing standards that uphold our values and respect individual rights.
This is evidenced in US history; the US secured a team of the best minds to ensure the Allies were ahead in nuclear technology development by executing the Manhattan Project (many of the Manhattan Project scientists later went on to form the Federation of American Scientists, where I work). However, just over ten years later, we were startled by a Russian satellite passing overhead, revealing how quickly global leaders can lose their advantage.
A feeling of déjà vu is echoing in the world of technology as we see China making significant strides in areas such as 5G and cloning technology. But that’s not it. Chinese companies have taken a dominant position in language-based voice recognition, with iFlytek leading the pack. Beyond this, both the WeChat Pay and face recognition apps employed by Chinese companies put them miles ahead of any American competitors. And while Google
Realizing the looming danger of such an advantage resting with an authoritarian rival, Congress sought to bolster our R&D capacity by authorizing nearly 200 billion dollars in funding for scientific research through the CHIPS and Science Act in hopes that history doesn't repeat itself. However, we must do more than out-spend China to remain competitive. This requires thinking strategically about how we want to prioritize and focus our investments, including increasing investments in scientific research and development, and shaping ethical norms around R&D to protect human freedoms.
As technological advancements continue to shape and define our society, it becomes increasingly crucial that we establish a set of principles rooted in human rights. These principles must guide how we interact with technology, ensuring that individuals and institutions are empowered, rather than endangered, by innovation.
In this regard, democratic nations have a vital role to play in ensuring that technological progress is not only beneficial for economic competitiveness but also for social progress. However, it is essential to note that the ethical norms and standards for commercial technology may differ from those for military applications.
Therefore, it is crucial that we effectively leverage commercial research and development to maximize value for taxpayers, enhance our military capabilities, and stay competitive on the global stage.
Technological advancements and ethical norms mean little without the talent to make the advancements or ethically use them. China is graduating twice as many students from STEM master’s programs and will graduate twice as many STEM Ph.D. candidates as the United States by 2025. This puts us at a disadvantage when defending our nation and competing with China.
Fortunately, the United States has a significant advantage over China because the world’s most innovative talent wants to study, work and live here. They don’t want to move to China—at least not yet. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo put it well in a speech in November at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Attracting the world’s best scientific minds is “an advantage that is America’s to lose,” she said. “And we’re not going to let that happen.” Our top institutions award nearly 60% of Computer Science Ph.D.s and over half of STEM Ph.D.s to international students.
We must do everything in our power to attract and retain top talent to remain a leader in science and technology. It should be unacceptable that we train the most talented people in the world at our top universities only to send them back to their home countries instead of letting them stay and contribute to our defense industrial base.
Currently, the United States grants too few green cards to highly skilled workers, and the process for obtaining a green card is slow and cumbersome. As a result, highly skilled immigrants who could contribute to our economy and defense capabilities are being forced to look elsewhere for opportunities. This is particularly true for STEM Ph.D. holders, who are often recruited by foreign governments and companies. Take the example of Menglong Zhu, the Director of Machine Learning for DJI—a drone company with ties to the Chinese military—who graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania (focusing on computer vision) and then worked for Google for more than four years before deciding to move back to China. More than half of AI Ph.D.s who leave the country cite immigration challenges as the main reason for leaving.
During the Cold War with the Soviet Union, we would go out and actively recruit the smartest Soviet scientists to work for us. So today, why is it acceptable to Congress that we train the best global talent in the United States and then send them back to their home countries rather than letting them stay here and help our economy and national security?
It isn’t acceptable to Americans, who support retaining this talent in the United States by a 2:1 majority. These aren’t workers taking American jobs; these are highly educated scientists, doctors, researchers, and engineers creating jobs and economic prosperity in the United States. It is also why more than four dozen national security leaders from several administrations, like David Norquist, William Cohen, and Chuck Hagel, and former members of Congress like Mac Thornberry, came together to call upon Congress to address this issue. “With the world’s best STEM talent on its side, it will be very hard for America to lose. Without it, it will be very hard for America to win," they wrote.
As I wrote late last year, the 118th Congress must take action to address this issue and ensure that we can attract and retain top talent. This is not just about economic competitiveness, it is about national security. If we do not prioritize global talent recruitment, we risk losing our position as a global leader in science and technology. While there may be valid concerns that individuals with malicious intent could take advantage of immigration reform, it is essential to recognize the adverse effects of completely closing the gates. A more balanced approach would be to allow those who want to positively contribute to the U.S. system, while also strengthening our ability to identify and take action against those who seek to abuse our openness and freedoms. This would involve enhancing our ability to thoroughly vet, monitor, and hold accountable those engaging in nefarious activities.
To effectively address the challenges posed by the CCP, the United States must also work with our allies and partners around the world to counter the growing influence of the CCP and defend our shared interests. The Biden administration has taken significant steps towards this goal through initiatives such as the Quad, the I2U2, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, and the AUKUS alliance, as well as by building upon the 2+2 ministerial meetings model initiated by the previous administration.
Congress must show support for these diplomatic efforts to address the challenges posed by the CCP. These efforts allow us to work together to address common challenges and promote shared interests. An example is how the Quad is advancing technical-standards cooperation through the International Telecommunication Union’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector. Quad nations have also committed to redouble their efforts through the new International Standards Cooperation Network to share information on technical standards activities. By building these partnerships, we can collectively exert more influence on the global stage and better defend our values and interests.
At the same time, it is also important to educate and inform the American public about the threat posed by the CCP. This may be difficult, as the average person may see apps like TikTok as benign and may need help understanding how they could pose national security risks. It is the job of the Select Committee, which has a loud microphone, to lay out the evidence and educate the American public on the risks and challenges posed by the CCP.
This will require presenting the facts clearly and understandably. And as the Select Committee does this, it must be careful about the messaging used and avoid conflating the CCP with the people and culture of China. Many Chinese citizens disagree with the CCP's policies. They are working to promote democratic values and human rights within China, as we have seen once again with the recent protests against the Xi regime. Distinguishing between the CCP and the people of China is also important to avoid unintentionally bringing harm to the Asian American population in the United States.
As we look to the future, it is clear that Congress believes we must come together as a nation and stand up for the values that have made us great. Doing so can ensure that the United States remains a beacon of hope and freedom for generations to come.