By about 2025, China will likely surpass the U.S. for the first time ever in the amount of dollars spent on R&D. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a first-term congresswoman from southeastern Pennsylvania (and an industrial engineer), who sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ China subcommittee. I asked her what that coming switch in R&D spending meant to her.
“I find almost everything that China is doing to be alarming,” Houlahan said. “It is one of the reasons why I ran for Congress ... cybersecurity, intellectual property, those kinds of issues are very worrisome to me [concerning] research and development. I am very worried about our place in the world and the rise of China. And do I think we as a government are doing enough on that? No.”
Houlahan said that she thinks we need more people paying attention to and valuing basic research and development.
“The meeting that I was in today was on synthetic biology — they were imploring us to be more thoughtful about that sphere of influence. There’s a lot of attention and lip service paid to cyberspace, and to the military realm of that, but not nearly enough paid to biology, as an example. China in particular is working pretty aggressively to be the first mover in that area where, if we’re not paying more attention, we’re going to lose the ground that we have on that.”
Houlahan is also very passionate about rare earth elements.
“Today, I went to a meeting that was a bipartisan bicameral meeting of Democrats, Republicans, senators, representatives — about all of the bills we passed on the Senate side that haven’t been matched by the House side, all the bills we passed on the House side that hadn’t the matched by the Senate side,” she said. “There was one in there on supply chain security, and that is something that I really, really ping on because I don’t think they were thinking hard enough about supply chain management, which brings us to rare earth elements. If we don’t control the supply chain of rare earth elements, we are in trouble.”
“One of the things I’m most proud of … is we, through the defense appropriations act, we called out that we should be concerned about rare earths, and that we don’t have a good control over our supply chain — and we don’t really understand it well enough. And while we were at it, we noticed that we had an overabundance of tungsten in our stockpiles,” Houlahan said. “And so we identified that, flushed out $40 million or so of that supply responsibly — to make sure that we weren’t selling it to the Chinese or North Koreans or to Iranians, or to any number of people who’d like to have more rare earths and more control of it.”