Eni is helping to bring stable energy sources to the communities of Ghana. This means vaccines for children can now be safely stored, businesses can operate more efficiently, and the economy, as a whole, is strengthened and improved.
This week, the US Senate passed the so-called Endless Frontier Act, a $250 billion investment in development of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, the manufacture of semiconductors, and other tech-related sectors. The goal is to harness the combined power of America's public and private sectors to meet the tech challenges posed by China.
In its current form, this is the biggest diversion of public funds into the private sector to achieve strategic goals in many decades. The details of this package, and of the Senate vote, say a lot about US foreign-policy priorities and this bill's chances of becoming law.
Why did Democrats and Republicans agree to spend a quarter of a trillion dollars? The high-stakes tech competition with China is a threat both parties take seriously. Beijing is directing historic amounts of money toward development of AI and quantum computing technologies that experts say will determine the 21st century's balance of economic, political, and military power.
Just as the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite, spurred a surge in US spending and new strategic thinking, Washington is now finally heeding warnings that China has taken a great tech leap forward. Democrats and Republicans may not agree on what aspect of China's rise worries them most, but leaders of both parties see a threat to US competitiveness and national security.
What's in the bill? It focuses mainly on tech, with $120 billion for research and development funding, $52 billion for domestic semiconductor production, and $20 billion for space programs. But it also promotes new strategies to counter China's global influence and punish its abuses at home. For example, it authorizes new sanctions in response to China's crackdown in Hong Kong, its use of forced labor in Xinjiang, its skill in cyber espionage, and its theft of intellectual property. The bill also commissions a new study about the origin of the pandemic and calls for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing by US officials -- though not by US athletes.
What does this bill say about the domestic politics of competition with China? President Biden heralded the news of the Senate passage with a warning for the future: "As other countries continue to invest in their own research and development, we cannot risk falling behind. America must maintain its position as the most innovative and productive nation on Earth." It's safe to assume that "other countries" mainly means China since the bill explicitly labels that country's government the "greatest geopolitical and geoeconomic threat" to US foreign policy.
But it also makes clear there is strong bipartisan support for the Biden administration's position that the era of engagement with China is over. China's growing power has Washington's attention, and its military expansion, human rights abuses, and tech capabilities, and trade practices ensure there is something for everyone on Capitol Hill to oppose.
China has responded. An official statement says this bill is "full of Cold War thinking and ideological prejudice." It will now be easier for Xi to make the case at home that the US intends to stunt China's growth as a great power. US officials counter that years of unfair Chinese trade practices and President Xi Jinping's newly aggressive foreign policy are responsible for the sharp downturn in relations.
What happens next? The bill now heads for the House of Representatives where its fate is TBD. News coverage rightly focuses on the rarity of 68 Senate votes for any bill of this cost and ambition, but 32 senators voted against it, and their reasoning highlights partisan differences lurking beneath the bipartisan consensus which might force a rework in the lower house.
Thirty-one Republican senators opposed it. Some said it costs too much. Others said it should include funding for border security. Former Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders voted no to protest the amount of money the bill would move from US taxpayers to private-sector companies without enough accountability for how the money is spent. Other Democrats warn that its aggressiveness can make Cold War fears a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We won't know until autumn just how ambitious the final legislation will be, but the bipartisan Senate bill makes clear that the US-China rivalry will only become more intense.
What do America's policies around the world mean for jobs, the economy, and the future of the country's future? This Tuesday, June 15. at 11 am ET, GZERO Media presents a a live discussion on trade, immigration, and how domestic issues like racism and deep partisan divides impact America's standing in the world. Our event, which is sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York, is free and open to the public. Please register to attend.
Judy Woodruff, anchor of the PBS NewsHour, will moderate the conversation with:
- Donna Edwards, Member of Congress (2008-2017)
- Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media
- Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
- Miriam Sapiro, Managing Director, Sard Verbinnen & Co. (SVC) and Former Acting and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative
- Cecilia Muñoz, Senior Advisor, New America
Special appearance by Governor Thomas H. Kean, Chairman of Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Far Away and Close to Home: How US Foreign Policy Impacts All Americans
Tuesday, June 15, 2021 | 11 am - 12:30 pm ET
Listen: Is there a path to democracy for Europe's last dictatorship, Belarus? Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya discusses her hopes and fears for the country with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World Podcast. President Alexander Lukashenko has maintained a tight grip on power in Belarus for the last 26 years and rigged the results of his last election which led to widespread protest and unrest in his country, though few consequences globally. But will he now be held accountable after diverting a flight between two European capitals to arrest a dissident journalist? And just how close are he and Vladimir Putin?
Nigeria's federal government earlier this month blocked Twitter from the country's mobile networks, after the social media company deleted a controversial post from President Muhammadu Buhari's account. The move by Africa's largest and most populous economy comes as many governments around the world are putting increased pressure on social media companies, with serious implications for free speech.
Why did Nigeria restrict access to Twitter?
Buhari's tweet contained a threat to use force against a secessionist group in Nigeria's southeastern region. After a big backlash on social media, Twitter deleted the tweet on the grounds that it was an incitement to violence. The Nigerian government then banned Twitter over concerns that, as Information Minister Lai Mohammed explained, the social media platform is "capable of undermining Nigeria's corporate existence." Nigerian officials were irked at the power of social media influencers to shape Twitter's policy toward official government speech, and they also claim double standards in content moderation on the platform. For instance, they point out that Twitter has done little to silence Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the secessionist Indigenous People of Biafra movement, who has repeatedly tweeted hate speech and incited violence against the state. For these reasons, the Buhari government feels that Twitter has begun to constitute a threat to Nigeria's national security. But in banning the platform, they also stoked concerns about the right of Nigerians to free speech.
Has there been backlash over that?
Opposition to the ban has been swift in the diaspora and the international community, where the move is seen as a sign of the Buhari administration's authoritarian drift. While there has also been backlash domestically — a legal challenge has been mounted while some Nigerians are openly circumventing the ban using VPNs — it is unlikely to grow disruptive. Only a small proportion of Nigerians use Twitter regularly. Simply put, most Nigerians will not be affected by the ban, limiting the scope for political blowback.
How does this compare to efforts by other governments to pressure Twitter?
Nigeria's standoff with Twitter bears some parallels with India's escalating feud with the social media giant. Authorities in both countries view Twitter's content moderation practices as an affront to their sovereignty. Nigerian officials have frequently said that Twitter poses a threat to the security of the state, while their Indian counterparts have labelled companies that resist their restrictions "digital colonizers".
That said, the two governments are upset about different things. The Nigerian authorities are unhappy with what they perceive to be inconsistent, and perhaps even anti-government, content moderation. The Indian government, meanwhile, are actively trying to influence Twitter's moderation practices in order to silence dissenting voices and curb the firm's labeling of tweets from officials, and are unhappy that Twitter is refusing to comply.
Might the Nigerian government start to move toward greater regulation?
Nigerian authorities are now using the Twitter spat as an excuse to impose tighter content moderation guidelines on social media firms. On June 10, authorities directed all social media platforms in the country to apply for a broadcast license pursuant to domestic broadcasting laws. It is not yet clear what such regulation would entail.
What aspect of this story has been lost in the mainstream coverage?
There has been almost no discussion of the broader context of Buhari's tweet, which was an attempt to summarize remarks the president made in response to a series of attacks on the offices of electoral authorities across the country's south. In a video excerpt which was included in one of the deleted tweets, Buhari can be heard lamenting the human toll of the civil war while expressing incredulity over the perceived lack of awareness of the loss associated with the war among the current separatists.
This context, and the fact that Twitter deleted the speech of the commander-in-chief of a country's armed forces threatening force against an armed rebel group, without first consulting that government, raises serious questions about the appropriate duty of care that social media companies owe to sovereigns on issues of national security. The episode also highlights how "working the refs" — or applying pressure to companies that moderate political speech, similar to the way players on a basketball court may try to gain sympathy from referees in calling fouls — is becoming a fixture of 21st century politics.
That reality should ordinarily raise eyebrows around the world — the EU and the UK, for example, are working on legislation for content on social media platforms, also the subject of intense partisan debate in the US after the January 6 Capitol insurrection. The Nigerian government had an opportunity to lead an important global conversation about those issues. Instead, the government's overreach and apparent restriction of Nigerians' right to free self-expression is now the story.
Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:
What's the significance of the US-China bill, competition bill that passed the Senate earlier this week?
Well, the bill is a major investment in American technology, research and development, semiconductor manufacturing, and it's designed to push back on the China Made in 2025 push that lawmakers have become increasingly worried about in recent years. The opinion in Washington has shifted from seeing China as a strategic competitor to a strategic rival. And you're seeing what's now likely to be one of the only bipartisan bills in Congress now pushing back on that. Significant money for semiconductors in this bill, even though some of it was set aside for automotive purposes. That money's not going to come online fast enough to really make a difference to the current global semiconductor shortage, but it will help build up US long-term spending capacity and manufacturing capacity in semiconductors.
Other aspects of the bill, banned the application TikTok from going on government devices out of security concerns, created new sanctions authorities around Xinjiang and Hong Kong for human rights abuses, and mandated a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, which is probably going to happen anyway once the Biden administration is able to align with its allies. Let the athletes play. Don't let any high level delegations go. This is probably the only bipartisan bill to happen this year, yet still, half of Senate Republicans voted against it because they were opposed to the kind of industrial policy they think this represents, but it does show the area where there's bipartisan agreement in a city that's very, very divided right now. China is the bad guy and Congress is moving in that direction.
With President Biden announcing the US will donate 500 million vaccine doses to the world, is this the first step in the US's return to international leadership?
Well, the US said they were going to buy 500 million doses from Pfizer, maker of one of the mRNA vaccines developed in the United States, and send it out through the COVAX initiative to 100 countries around the globe. Separately, the G7 said that together they would donate a billion vaccine doses around the globe, but the US is obviously leading this initiative with the greatest vaccine production capabilities and the largest contribution globally. Still, the Biden administration has come under some criticism for being a little bit too slow to get these doses out the door. And the NGO community wants to see the US support a vaccine waiver, which the US has said they want to do, but now they're trying to negotiate that to allow other countries to use the IP created by Pfizer, Moderna, and others to create vaccines around the globe and drastically increase supply over the long-term.
The US has been very cautious in its approach. It wants to make sure that it has enough doses to give every adult in the US two, which is the recommended amount, and save some reserve for booster shots in case they're needed or if the virus starts coming back next summer. So, probably no matter what the US does here, it's not going to be enough for some people, but Biden is using this as an effort of vaccine diplomacy to let the world know that the US is back. This is a very different approach from the Trump administration, and this is signaling their commitment to spreading goodwill around the world.
Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:
What do you expect from President Biden's first European trip since taking office?
Well, first, it will be sort of reconnecting with Europe, reconnecting with the European Union, with NATO, with the partners in the G7, and going really from the initial message, which was, "we are back," to a more concrete message, "here is what we could potentially do together." That is the expectations. And let's see how it turns out.
What are the big topics on the agenda of the G7 summit?
Well, obviously, fighting the pandemic will have to be the number one topic. And there good messaging coming out on the sharing of vaccine doses, although should preferably happened yesterday, but that's the way the world is. Then I think there will be more cooperation that is needed on climate. There need to be concrete efforts in order to have a successful COP26 meeting in November. And then by necessity, there will be quite a lot of discussion on China.
- Biden-Putin summit: US wants predictability; G7's strong COVID ... ›
- The Graphic Truth: Two different pandemics - EU vs US - GZERO ... ›
- Biden says “America is back” on climate — do others buy it ... ›
- What We're Watching: Biden meets Boris, Iranian ships in the ... ›
- GZERO event highlights: IMF chief, G7 vaccine pledges, global ... ›
Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:
When President Biden and President Putin meet, will cybersecurity will be a key issue that they discuss?
Now, I'm sure that there will be many thorny issues on the table. But after American fingers pointed to Russia and hold it responsible for the SolarWinds hack, it's likely. Criminals in Russia were also not hindered when they held the Colonial Pipeline Company ransom through a ransomware attack. And really, when journalists and opposition leaders cannot speak a single critical word without being caught, how come cybercriminals can act with impunity in Russia? So the need for prevention and accountability really is significant. And I hope the President Biden can push and persuade Putin to change the confrontational and aggressive course that he is on.