Taking a cue from the U.S.
The author is president of Lee & Ko Global Commerce Institute and former Minister of Trade.
Joe Biden’s administration has gone all-out to ratchet up U.S. invention and technology competitiveness on the strong belief that the key to its contest with China hinges on science and high-tech capabilities. Congress has been equally enthusiastic in lawmaking to contain China’s tech rise to ensure a U.S. competitive edge beyond Biden’s presidential term. The Senate on June 8 passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (Usica) in a bipartisan agreement on the need to enhance American research and development (R&D) power to effectively address challenges from China. The law could be slightly revised by the House of Representatives, but the legislation is expected to easily pass.
The United States has maintained leadership in science and technology for decades. Its strength lies in an efficient network of academic research, state subsidies, vigorous venture capital and free competition. The latest bill aims to go back to the basics to stir the unique U.S. innovation power and enhance competitiveness in semiconductors and other tech fields. The U.S. believes its innate innovative potential and established system can prevail over China’s state-led capitalism. The Usica involves a spending of $250 billion over the next five years against China’s $1.4 trillion stimuli plan to support related parties through state projects, policies, systems and other measures.
The Endless Frontier provision authorizes nearly $120 billion over the next five years to fund science R&D programs under the leadership of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in areas spanning from space, artificial intelligence, quantum information science to critical minerals and bioeconomy. Budget for the NSF would be doubled to help the foundation in charge of collaborative R&D projects and coordination in support in academic technology transfer and intellectual property protection, establishing technology testbeds, and awarding scholarships.
Usica also includes the Strategic Competition Act and Meeting the China Challenge Act to effectively counter China’s threat to U.S. security. The U.S. will leverage the Indo-Pacific strategy to strengthen partnerships and cooperation with allies in the fields of technology, defense, infrastructure and supply chains. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (Cfius), an interagency committee, will take responsibility for keeping watch on potential IP theft and related violations by China against U.S. academies and scholars, and must report such cases to the Congress.
The Usica also involves funding for states to provide mandatory computer science courses at elementary, secondary and higher educational institutions to groom expertise in cyber security and software. The bill includes funding for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to better equip Americans with relevant knowledge in the age of the fourth industrial revolution through connections between secondary and higher education.
Our National Assembly also has been working on a special law to promote national strategic industries. Lawmakers should benchmark the Usica, especially in its focus on funding and support for university and academic R&D activities and technology development. There must be a coordinating role so that projects and spending do not overlap among different government offices. Enhancement of STEM education from the secondary education level and cyber security and IP protection also should be noted.
A law to promote core strategic industries should not just stop by strengthening a certain field such as chips, but also aim to establish a healthy R&D and innovation habitat for future science and tech capabilities. South Korea has nearly 200 full-service four-year universities and 25 state-backed research institutes in the science and tech field. The National Research Foundation of Korea and the Institute of Basic Sciences should be better utilized so that the R&D and innovation habitat perform in a systematic and efficient manner.