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China’s economy may be slowing, but President Xi Jinping’s global ambitions certainly aren’t. Everything Xi does on the economic, diplomatic and military fronts sends an unequivocal message that China intends to supplant the United States as the world’s leading power.
To check China’s ambitions, US lawmakers should advocate for policies that make America stronger on every level, from rebuilding our military to encouraging innovation in the private sector.
Additionally, Congress is expected to pass legislation banning Chinese apps such as TikTok and WeChat, which collect millions of information about US citizens. India has taken such action against more than 350 Chinese apps. It should concern lawmakers that three of the most popular apps and devices with young Americans today — TikTok, retail giant Shein and DJI drones — are all headquartered in Beijing. One can only imagine what they do with the data of millions of Americans.
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Instead, some members of Congress are proposing an agenda that undermines America’s top tech innovators, one of the last areas where the United States retains an edge over communist China.
The American Online Innovation and Choice Act (AICOA), championed by Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, is one such piece of legislation. The AICOA grants sweeping authority to federal antitrust agencies, including Lina M. Khan, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, which would certainly be used to hamper some of America’s biggest corporations.
Klobuchar’s legislation allows regulators to arbitrarily target online platforms of a certain size if they are found guilty of a new round of “violations”, including selling their own products to consumers who want to buy them.
Likewise, the Open App Markets Act would put American companies at a structural disadvantage compared to their Chinese competitors. More importantly, the law would remove scrutiny safeguards that protect consumers from unscrupulous app developers, some of whom may be foreign agents.
Additionally, a third bill, a revised version of the JCPA Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, first introduced in 2018 to grant news publishers an antitrust exemption so they can work together to negotiate against Google and Facebook, has been updated and expanded (known as JCPA 2.0) and now shares many of the provisions regarding the AICOA.
Unlike US legislation that punishes our best companies, the CCP’s “Made In China 2025” plan aims to leapfrog the US in all aspects of global high-tech manufacturing – AI, robotics and cyber, to name a few. name a few.
Unlike China’s state-run industrial operations, it’s the private sector — not the government — that drives innovation in the United States. Most of the research and development responsible for our advantage in military platforms, space exploration, communication technologies and life-saving vaccines is paid for by private sector companies. They invest their time, resources, people and capital to invent the tools we will use in the future. Last year alone, the top six US tech companies spent $140 billion on research and development. To put that number in perspective, that’s $30 billion more than the Pentagon has spent on research and development.
Constraining American tech companies is detrimental to our national security and will undermine the prosperity these companies have fostered over the past three decades.
While some members of Congress distrust and vilify the tech sector, our partners and adversaries understand how much the tech sector is an asset to our country. A headline in the Wall Street Journal stated, “Big Tech Is the West’s Surprise Weapon in Competing with Russia and China.”
Indeed, in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine, American tech companies have swung into action. Elon Musk’s Starlink has helped Ukrainians communicate with their frontline soldiers, especially in remote areas. Microsoft played a key role in disrupting Russian cyberattacks against key Ukrainian institutions. Meta and Google helped counter Russian propaganda. These companies have played an incredibly key role in keeping Ukraine free.
While there are legitimate concerns about censorship and misinformation on tech platforms, creating a new antitrust regime that could break our most successful businesses is not the right answer. Current antitrust laws, which focus on consumer welfare, are working.
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Many lawsuits are currently pending against technology companies for alleged anti-competitive actions. These costumes will play. Litigants and courts do not need additional laws to resolve issues.
Additionally, the free market works when it comes to abusing companies when it comes to censorship and misinformation. For example, Netflix recently lost $50 billion in market capitalization and nearly a million subscribers because viewers aren’t interested in Sussex documentaries or Obamas content. Consumers send a message to technology. Similarly, Twitter faced a takeover bid from libertarian Elon Musk that has yet to come to fruition.
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America must maintain its advantage in the technology sector. As we saw in Ukraine, American technological leadership has real national security implications for the United States and its allies. But we cannot take our status for granted. Today, five of the top 20 global technology companies are based in China. If we stifle our private sector innovators by passing anti-innovation legislation, China’s position will grow and grow rapidly. America will suffer in turn.
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CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ROBERT C. O’BRIEN
Robert C. O’Brien served as the 27th United States National Security Advisor from 2019 to 2021.