U.S. Senator Warner on the RESTRICT Act, AI, Bipartisanship on China, and a New Era of Intelligence

SOURCE: Jordan Schneider ChinaTalk Blog


Jordan Schneider: I’m honored to welcome Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to ChinaTalk. We’ll get into the RESTRICT Act, state capacity to analyze emerging technologies, the future of industrial policy, the nature and limits to bipartisanship around China, as well as the government’s role in regulating artificial intelligence. So let’s start with the RESTRICT Act, your recent proposal to give Commerce the ability to get between Russian and Chinese ICT [information and communication technology] suppliers and US businesses and customers. What’s the path forward from a process perspective?

Mark Warner: Well, Jordan, before I answer that, I want to lay out my evolution on China. I remember when I was governor [of Virginia] back in the early 2000s leading a trade mission to China, very much encouraging more bilateral trade, encouraging greater academic exchanges — and then starting in about 2010, I got on the intelligence committee, where what I was hearing in the public domain versus what I was hearing in the classified domain were almost night and day.

This got much, much more contrast — the stark contrast when President Xi took over in the 2012 timeframe, where it became clearly evident that President Xi thought: if the CCP was going to maintain its leadership position, that he wanted 1) a more authoritarian regime, 2) that he saw this as a bilateral contest in terms of a lot of technology development, and 3) that he was going to basically ignore traditional rule of law and encourage intellectual property theft at an unprecedented level.

[This all grew] to the point that, starting in 2017, I started hosting a series of “classified roadshow briefings” — always on a bipartisan basis, with leaders from the FBI, different intelligence assets, the industry sector, [to talk] about this competition with China, as well as meeting with academic institutions.

And I want to make clear at the front end of this podcast — and I think it’s critically important to do so: my beef is with the CCP and Xi’s leadership. It is not with the Chinese people; it is not with the Chinese diaspora. I think when policymakers fail to do so, since so much of the diaspora communicates on platforms like WeChat, that becomes fodder for the CCP to say, “Hey, see? This is just anti-Asian, anti-Chinese rhetoric.”

Jordan Schneider: So, the bipartisan evolution and consensus on China is something you, as you just described, had a front-row seat to.

Were there particular turning points, and could you describe the nature of the consensus and how far it goes today when it comes to policymaking on the Hill?

Mark Warner: Well, I think as China changed its laws to make explicitly clear that all Chinese companies’ first obligation is to the CCP — not to shareholders, not to customers — that was important.

And the big wake-up call for me — and maybe as somebody who used to be in the wireless industry before I got involved in politics — the shot across the bow of Huawei coming in and not only being a leading player in 5G wireless development, but also China’s starting to move into the standard-setting bodies and literally flooding the zone on what had been normally standard-setting entities that (regardless of where the technology was invented) the United States dominated.

If anything, it became so bipartisan that — and particularly I would see sometimes on the Republican side almost a rush to see who could out-China-hawk each other — it has almost sometimes become problematic, because there are clearly places where we still need to engage with China; there are clearly things that we cannot solve on our own.

There’s got to be a level of sophistication. For example, I strongly don’t believe America should be buying Huawei telecom equipment because of the potential security risks of having the whole hardware stack running some of our wireless networks. But I’m still open to the idea of American semiconductor companies selling legacy chips to Huawei handsets, because that’s a commodity item that would otherwise be purchased from Korean, Taiwanese, Singaporean, or other entities.

So I do [try] to convince some of my Republican friends, “We’ve got to have a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer.” I cite the example [of] the Inflation Reduction Act: because candidly, there’s a series of areas — like solar, like battery power, and others — where we almost have to steal back or find a way to bring back technology from China if we are going to get the full advantage of some of those investments.

So I do think it is an area where there is broad bipartisan consensus. I spent some time with Mike Gallagher, who the Speaker of the House put in charge of this China Committee. I think Mike is a very smart and sophisticated guy. And [this broad consensus] is one of the reasons why I believe that the implementation of the CHIPS bill [being] done correctly is so important, because we’re into areas that, traditionally, some of my Republican friends were reluctant to go toward, which is quasi-industrial policy (where failure to have America invest or our allies invest will leave the field to Chinese entities, since they receive enormous amounts of government subsidies).

But if we don’t get the CHIPS implementation right, our ability to make similar kinds of investments — whether it’s an AI, quantum, synthetic biology, or advanced energy — is going to be seriously diminished.

So this is very much a work in progress, in terms of implementation around chips as we get into these questions about technologies that come from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea — it was the basis and the genesis of the RESTRICT Act.

The good news is: it’s broadly bipartisan. The bad news is that it’s a field that is changing in real time.

Read more of this excellent discussion here: 

About The Author