“We shouldn’t have to rely on a foreign country — especially one that doesn’t share our interests or our values — in order to protect and provide our people during a national emergency,” Mr. Biden said. He thanked a bipartisan group of lawmakers who are working on the issue, noting that China has become a rare area of bipartisan agreement.
Distrust of China spans the political spectrum. The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, has been working with Senator Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, on a bill called the Endless Frontier Act that seeks to preserve U.S. technological primacy by making big investments in artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced manufacturing. These are important investments in domestic capacity that cannot be left to the private sector alone. Although Americans have long shied away from anything that smacks of a centrally planned economy, there is a growing recognition that technological advantage does not maintain itself, especially in the face of a determined, forward-thinking rival.
Lawmakers in Washington have become particularly unsettled by a shortage of certain types of semiconductors, which is causing delays in automobile production. Much of the world’s supply of a key semiconductor used in cars comes from Taiwan, which lies just 100 miles away from mainland China and which Chinese officials consider a rebel province. Last year, Chinese military planes begun making daily incursions into Taiwanese airspace after nearly two decades of mostly staying on the mainland’s side of the median line of the Taiwan Strait. That worried U.S. officials who support Taiwan’s right to self-government.
With nearly every electronic device requiring semiconductors, these tiny computer chips are the oil of the 21st century. Americans cannot afford to be complacent about where they come from or whether there will be enough to go around. It is reassuring to know that TSMC, the Taiwanese company that is the world’s largest independent semiconductor foundry, has begun constructing a new plant in Arizona and that the National Defense Authorization Act enacted in January provides incentives to the U.S. semiconductor industry. But more must be done.
That is not to say that Americans ought to try to stop China from obtaining the semiconductors that it needs to thrive, or “decouple” the U.S. economy from China’s, as Mr. Trump once dangerously suggested. That would be exceedingly costly and would make it more likely that the two countries will end up in a confrontation.
But Americans have recognized the need to be far more thoughtful and strategic about planning for their own economic future. That’s a good thing. Maintaining a military and technological edge requires investments in research, education and infrastructure that many Americans would otherwise be unwilling to make.
Of all the threats that China poses, the greatest might just be its example to the rest of the world of a successful alternative to American democracy, which has been marred by economic inequality, racial unrest and insurrection. To effectively counter China, Americans must get their own house in order and remind the world — and themselves — that democracy can still deliver for ordinary people.