The United States Senate passed a bill on Wednesday aimed at boosting semiconductor chips production in their country, which is expected to clear the House of Representatives this week. It now goes to President Joe Biden, who will sign it into law.
The "CHIPS for America Act", short for the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act, looks like a natural, legitimate government response to the global chips shortage that is also pestering US industries and blamed as a contributor to inflationary pressures there.
"As Americans are worried about the state of the economy and the cost of living, the CHIPS bill is one answer: it will accelerate the manufacturing of semiconductors in America, lowering prices on everything from cars to dishwashers," Biden said in a statement. "It also will create jobs… It will mean more resilient American supply chains."
But what is special about the matter is what has driven it through Senate scrutiny, the anxiety that the US is no longer in the driver's seat in cutting-edge technologies, and that traditional economic concerns are increasingly turning into national security ones.
What merits particular attention is the bill has been framed as a national security priority from the very beginning, which explains why 64 US senators, from both the Democratic and Republican parties, voted for it, and why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was confident there would be enough Republican votes to make up for the shortfall in Democratic support when the bill was put to the vote in the House.
Like all recent US legislation meant to address its supply chain anxiety, the most prominent behind-the-scenes driver of the act is China. Or more precisely, fear of China. Besides the attempt to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing, which has indeed become a short plank in US capabilities, and a prominent industrial bottleneck of late, the act reflects the same idea of "decoupling" from China especially in sensitive areas.
The proponents of the legislation who have hyped "security vulnerability" have offered no evidence China has been manipulating the global supply chains to undermine US national security. And no country might be more worried than China is about the disruption to global supply chains, because few other countries rely as heavily on them. China needs them to be safe and stable.
Beijing's assertion that it is a beneficiary of the current international order is sincere. So is its aspiration for safeguarding global connectedness, and the larger picture of economic globalization of which it is part and from which other countries including the US benefit.
This new US legislation is the latest representation of Washington's bid to exclude China from the global supply chains. It is therefore nothing but a blinkered step in the wrong direction.