China shrugs at US Senate’s $250 billion tech bill

Chinese authorities and state media think the Innovation and Competition Act isn't ambitious enough to fear.

US capitol building
Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The U.S. Congress wants to counter Chinese influence by borrowing from China's toolkit. But Beijing, which is used to funneling massive amounts of cash into selected industries, seems to think Washington hasn't gone far enough.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act — first known as the Endless Frontier Act — 68-32 in a bipartisan vote. After significant changes, the amended bill pledges to spend over $250 billion to boost America's science and technology sectors, with the clear goal of obtaining (or depending on your viewpoint, maintaining) a technological lead over China. It has yet to be passed in the House.

The day after the Senate passed the bill, the Chinese government condemned it. At a June 9 press conference, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the bill "gravely interferes in China's domestic affairs" and is "filled with Cold War zero-sum mentality." The National People's Congress, China's legislature, released a statement with similar language, calling the act "paranoid" and "doomed to fail."

But besides the expected, almost routine statements, there are more discussions in state media explaining why the hostile bill isn't particularly threatening to China. In fact, in China, the prevailing narrative is that the USICA is not ambitious enough to give America a real leg up.

Yuyuantan Tian (玉渊潭天), a WeChat account linked to China's state broadcaster, called the bill "too much talk and not enough work" in an article published in late May. A $100 billion investment in scientific research — what was proposed in the original Endless Frontier Act — would only amount for 0.5% of America's annual GDP, the article said. When divided into different research fields, "the number can be quite small."

In the United States, early opposition to the bill also centered around whether investing in applied science will take away funding from basic research. But Yuyuantan Tian thinks the investment in applied science is too little, too late. "If the manufacturing industry — the last link in the chain — continues its path downhill," the U.S. is getting a useless law "no matter how much you invest in the 'frontier,'" the article said.

Some Chinese commentators are asking whether this new bill means the United States is learning from what China calls its "whole nation" strategy and ditching America's small-government tradition.

There's a popular belief in China that what it calls its "whole nation system" (举国体制) has enabled it to concentrate resources in dedicated fields to maximum effect. To Chinese officials, it has worked for the country's research and education sector by pouring a lot of investment into a few cutting-edge fields, and has worked for China's sports industry too, which rapidly grew into a world leader in many competitive sports, although those results have been visibly mixed. But the system is also frequently criticized outside China as authoritarian and interventionist.

So, when it became clear that the USICA sets aside $52 billion to grow America's domestic chip industry, many Chinese commentators asked why America is doing that which it once despised. Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University and a regular social media user, posted a question on Weibo pegged to the USICA news asking whether "investing the whole nation's resources into scientific research is something only a certain political system can do?" A June 9 editorial by the party-owned tabloid Global Times raised a similar question, calling America "a sick person looking for whichever doctor it can find."

Deng Jinting, a researcher at Beijing-based Renmin University, cautioned that the USICA asks the Department of State to publish a list of all Chinese subsidies to domestic companies, which may become another sanction tool against subsidy recipients. Zhang Qiuju, a researcher at a think tank affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told state news service Xinhua the bill will force Chinese-American scientists to take a side because they can only receive funding from one of the two countries.

Chinese officials seem less worried about the actual cash being pumped into U.S. tech and more concerned about the effect on China's reputation. Perhaps none of the original Endless Frontier Act has received as much attention in China as one particular section later added to the bill: Division C, originally introduced by Sens. Bob Menendez and Jim Risch as the Strategic Competition Act. It focuses more on China's human rights violations and online propaganda than its technological chops. In the final version passed by the Senate, Section C would spend $300 million each year on a "Countering Chinese Influence Fund," which would be used to expose Chinese propaganda and raise awareness of the Belt and Road's negative impacts, among other uses.

But when it comes to the big picture, while some U.S. senators have called the bill an unnecessary government intervention, the idea that the state should be an active promoting force of the domestic technology industry is quite mundane in China. The state routinely introduces national policies to incentivize and fund key industries, like Made in China 2025 or the semiconductor-focused "Big Fund." In the June 9 editorial by the Global Times, the tabloid made a rare acknowledgment that the direction USICA is going with, namely increasing internal investment, "looks about right."

Even though there is still a ways to go before the fund and other measures in this section become reality, Chinese state media and nationalist influencers have already started using it to justify the narrative that any anti-Chinese government message online is funded by countries like the United States. "Give me $300 million, and I will slander China," said a headline in the China Daily, a state-owned newspaper.


The (gaming) clones never stopped attacking

Clones keep getting through app review despite App Store rules about copying. It's a sign of the weaknesses in mobile app stores — and the weakness in Big Tech’s after-the-fact moderation approach.

Clones aren't always illegal, but they are widely despised.

Image: Disney

Two of the most fundamental tenets of the mobile gaming market:

  1. Free always wins.
  2. No good gaming idea is safe from copycats.

In combination, these two rules help produce what the industry calls a clone. Most often, clones are low-effort, ripped-off versions of popular games that monetize in not-so-savory fashion while drawing in players with a price tag of zero.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at
Sponsored Content

A CCO’s viewpoint on top enterprise priorities in 2022

The 2022 non-predictions guide to what your enterprise is working on starting this week

As Honeywell’s global chief commercial officer, I am privileged to have the vantage point of seeing the demands, challenges and dynamics that customers across the many sectors we cater to are experiencing and sharing.

This past year has brought upon all businesses and enterprises an unparalleled change and challenge. This was the case at Honeywell, for example, a company with a legacy in innovation and technology for over a century. When I joined the company just months before the pandemic hit we were already in the midst of an intense transformation under the leadership of CEO Darius Adamczyk. This transformation spanned our portfolio and business units. We were already actively working on products and solutions in advanced phases of rollouts that the world has shown a need and demand for pre-pandemic. Those included solutions in edge intelligence, remote operations, quantum computing, warehouse automation, building technologies, safety and health monitoring and of course ESG and climate tech which was based on our exceptional success over the previous decade.

Keep Reading Show less
Jeff Kimbell
Jeff Kimbell is Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Honeywell. In this role, he has broad responsibilities to drive organic growth by enhancing global sales and marketing capabilities. Jeff has nearly three decades of leadership experience. Prior to joining Honeywell in 2019, Jeff served as a Partner in the Transformation Practice at McKinsey & Company, where he worked with companies facing operational and financial challenges and undergoing “good to great” transformations. Before that, he was an Operating Partner at Silver Lake Partners, a global leader in technology and held a similar position at Cerberus Capital LP. Jeff started his career as a Manufacturing Team Manager and Engineering Project Manager at Procter & Gamble before becoming a strategy consultant at Bain & Company and holding executive roles at Dell EMC and Transamerica Corporation. Jeff earned a B.S. in electrical engineering at Kansas State University and an M.B.A. at Dartmouth College.

Beat Saber, Bored Apes and more: What to do this weekend

Don't know what to do this weekend? We've got you covered.

Images: Ross Belot/Flickr; IGBD; BAYC

This week we’re listening to “Harvest Moon” on repeat; burning some calories playing Beat Saber; and learning all about the artist behind the goofy ape pics that everyone (including Gwyneth Paltrow?) is talking about.

Neil Young: Off Spotify? No problem.

Neil Young removed his music from Spotify this week, but countless recordings are still available on YouTube, including this 1971 video of him performing “Heart of Gold” in front of a live studio audience, complete with some charming impromptu banter. And while you’re there, scroll down and read a few of the top-rated comments. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

'Archive 81': Not based on a book, but on a podcast!

Netflix’s latest hit show is a supernatural mystery horror mini-series, and I have to admit that I was on the fence about it many times, in part because the plot just often didn’t add up. But then the main character, Dan the film buff and archivist, would put on his gloves, get in the zone, and meticulously restore a severely damaged, decades old video tape, and proceed to look for some meaning beyond the images. That ritual, and the sentiment that we produce, consume and collect media for something more than meets the eye, ultimately saved the show, despite some shortcomings.

'Secrets of Sulphur Springs': Season 2 is out now

If you’re looking for a mystery that's a little more family-friendly, give this show about a haunted hotel, time travel, and kids growing up in a world that their parents don’t fully understand a try. Season 2 dropped on Disney+ this month, and it not only includes a lot more time travel mysteries, but even uses the show’s time machine to tackle subjects as serious as reparations.

The artist behind those Bored Apes

Remember how NFTs are supposed to generate royalties with every resale, and thus support artists better than any of their existing revenue streams? Seneca, the artist who was instrumental in creating those iconic apes for the Bored Ape Yacht Club, wasn’t able to share details about her compensation in this Rolling Stone profile, but it sure sounds like she is not getting her fair share.

Beat Saber: Update incoming

Years later, Beat Saber remains my favorite VR game, which is why I was very excited to see a teaser video for cascading blocks, which could be arriving any day now. Time to bust out the Quest for some practice time this weekend!

Correction: Story has been updated to correct the spelling of Gwyneth Paltrow's name. This story was updated Jan. 28, 2022.

Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.


Mental health at work is still taboo. Here's how to make it easier.

Tech leaders, HR experts and organizational psychologists share tips for how to destigmatize mental health at work.

How to de-stigmatize mental health at work, according to experts.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

When the pandemic started, HR software startup Phenom knew that its employees were going to need mental health support. So it started offering a meditation program, as well as a counselor available for therapy sessions.

To Chief People Officer Brad Goldoor’s surprise, utilization of these benefits was very low, starting at about a 10% take rate and eventually weaning off. His diagnosis: People still aren’t fully comfortable opening up about mental health, and they’re especially not comfortable engaging with their employer on the topic.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at


Robinhood's regulatory troubles are just the tip of the iceberg

It’s easiest to blame Robinhood’s troubles on regulatory fallout, but its those troubles have obscured the larger issue: The company lacks an enduring competitive edge.

A crypto comeback might go a long way to help Robinhood’s revenue

Image: Olena Panasovska / Alex Muravev / Protocol

It’s been a full year since Robinhood weathered the memestock storm, and the company is now in much worse shape than many of us would have guessed back in January 2021. After announcing its Q4 earnings last night, Robinhood’s stock plunged into the single digits — just below $10 — down from a recent high of $70 in August 2021. That means Robinhood’s valuation dropped more than 84% in less than six months.

Investor confidence won’t be bolstered much by yesterday’s earnings results. Total net revenues dropped to $363 million from $365 million in the preceding quarter. In the quarter before that, Robinhood reported a much better $565 million in net revenue. Net losses were bad but not quite as bad as before: Robinhood reported a $423 million net loss in Q4, an improvement from the $1.3 billion net loss in Q3 2021. One of the most shocking data points: Average revenue per user dropped to $64, down from a recent high of $137 in Q1 2021. At the same time, Robinhood actually reported a decrease in monthly active users, from 18.9 million in Q3 2021 to 17.3 million in Q4 2021.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at

Latest Stories