One Senator’s Strategy for Containing Chinese Technological Dominance


Democrat Mark Warner, a former telecom executive, suggests industrial policy may be necessary to sustain Western competition to China

When Mark Warner was in the telecommunications business in the 1980s and 1990s, he didn’t think much about how U.S. rules and standards shaped the global use of technology—it was a given. “I never appreciated how much we set the standards on almost every technology and innovation, even if not invented in America,” Mr. Warner said in an interview this week. “We flooded the zone with engineers. We had the best schools, we had most of the companies. It got built in as an assumed advantage, and we kind of got lazy about it.”

Today, as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he sees China’s erosion of that technological advantage as an existential threat to American values at home and abroad.

Nor is he happy with the U.S. response—either the hands-off attitude of previous administrations or an “erratic, reactionary” approach, exemplified by the current administration’s campaign against the social media app TikTok. In a series of speeches over the past year Mr. Warner, a former governor of Virginia, has laid out an alternative strategy: set standards on where interacting with China poses unacceptable risks to national security, get allies on board, and then pour the necessary resources into building up Western alternatives to Chinese companies.

In a speech last week he confessed that he once thought China would liberalize economically and politically by integrating with the world, and that technological innovation could only flourish in free societies. “Like so many, I was wrong,” he bluntly told the National Democratic Institute. “Instead, China has shown that the development and use of cutting-edge technology and economic expansion are, indeed, possible within authoritarian-state capitalism.”

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