China Hearing

The extent of the PRC’s threat and options for countering its challenge, especially in the  realm of technology, were discussed by a Senate committee.

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing titled “Advancing Effective U.S. Competition With China: Objectives, Priorities, and Next Steps” that showed a shared agreement on challenge posed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) but different views on how to manage the challenge. The hearing comes at a time when tensions between the United States and the PRC continue to escalate across a number of fronts with the Trump Administration and a number of Congressional Republicans using increasingly strong rhetoric against Beijing. In concert with the hearing, the chair and three other Republicans introduced legislation “to advance a comprehensive strategy for U.S. competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC)” per their press release. The Ranking Member also issued a report “by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff on China’s digital authoritarianism” according to his statement.

Chair Jim Risch (R-ID) stated stated “[a]s the Trump Administration has correctly recognized, China is a strategic and global competitor of the United States…[and] [i]t will be the greatest foreign policy challenge the United States faces in the decades to come. The policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) undermine U.S. interests and values, including those we share with allies and partners around the world.” Risch asserted

  • COVID-19 has brought this challenge to the forefront of American life. We now know just how much the CCP’s decisions and actions directly affect U.S. citizens, our allies and partners, and the entire world. And we know not even a global pandemic will stop China’s aggressive behavior – whether that’s in Hong Kong, the South China Sea, or along the Indian border.
  • Over the last three years, the Trump Administration has taken numerous steps to put the United States on a stronger path to competing with China. Last week I was glad to see long overdue sanctions on CCP officials for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet. I was also pleased that we declared China’s claims in the South China Sea as unlawful, and deployed two carrier battle groups there for exercises. And after the CCP crushed Hong Kong’s autonomy, the president made the tough but necessary decision to end certain types of special treatment for Hong Kong.

Risch said

  • In May, the administration published a report on the implementation of its China strategy that goes into more detail. So this is a good time for the Committee to conduct oversight regarding our objectives, what we’ve done, and where we go from here.
  • This is also an opportunity to discuss China legislation put forward by members of this committee and others. This week, I introduced the “Strengthening Trade, Regional Alliances, Technology, and Economic and Geopolitical Initiatives Concerning China Act” (STRATEGIC Act) (S.4272). It is a comprehensive approach to China with concrete policies in several key areas of the competition. I’ll describe some of them briefly.
  • We must continue our focus on China’s anti-competitive economic policies. The Chinese government engages in intellectual property theft and massive financing of Chinese companies, and the most abusive anti-free market tactic of forced technology transfer. This is a horrible practice – it’s reprehensible.
  • These policies are designed to push others out of the market and create monopolies. Innovative American companies like Micron Technologies, based in my home state of Idaho, know these challenges well. Their intellectual property was stolen by a Chinese company, who then patented that technology in China and sued Micron. The STRATEGIC Act authorizes new tools for U.S. companies to address the harms caused by such policies, among several other provisions.
  • To maintain our economic and technological edge, it’s not enough to just push back on what China is doing. We also have to strengthen and invest in ourselves. In other committees, I have focused on this issue by supporting legislation promoting U.S. manufacturing of critical technologies, fortifying cyber security for our infrastructure and small businesses, and strengthening our technology workforce.
  • The STRATEGIC Act focuses on increasing technology collaboration with allies and partners. America is a world hub for innovation, and we can boost that innovation further by working with our highly capable partners. If we do, we will all be in a better position to develop the technologies of the future, and ensure they are used to uphold individual freedom, human rights, and prosperity.

Risch stressed “the importance of deterrence” and added

  • The United States, of course, does not seek any sort of military confrontation with China. However, China’s military is getting bigger, more capable, and becoming more aggressive. In the Indo-Pacific region, we should all be a lot more worried about the CCP’s plans for Taiwan, given what it just did to Hong Kong. In addition to the South China Sea, Japan faces almost daily incursions and pressure in the East China Sea. Beyond the region, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is also helping the Chinese military expand its presence.
  • We have to make it completely clear to the CCP that we are willing and able to defend our interests. That means reaffirming our commitments to our Indo-Pacific allies – even as they need to take on a larger role in defending the interests we share. The STRATEGIC Act focuses on key steps for advancing defense cooperation with our allies, including advocating for several difficult but important policy changes. 
  • I want to stress that this bill that I’ve introduced does not seek to block China. Rather, what it does is it offers prosperity. It offers an invitation to join the international community and operate under the rule of law and under international norms. If that happens, we all will prosper.
  • We should not miss the bipartisan opportunity that we have today to address these things. I’ll close with a note about bipartisanship.
  • Time and time again – on everything from human rights to investment screening – the Senate has worked across the aisle on China. But unfortunately, in recent months, that has become a lot harder. We have a long road ahead of us in this competition. We cannot allow partisanship to get in the way, even in an election year. Whatever happens in November, China will remain an issue. If we do not work together, the United States as a whole will be weaker.
  • I introduced this bill to push forward a serious, and bipartisan, conversation about the Senate’s role in advancing an effective strategy of competition. I want to thank several of my colleagues on this committee, from both sides of the aisle, for joining me in that effort. There is both Republican and Democrat input into this bill, not only from this committee, but also from think tanks around Washington, D.C., including Democrat think tanks. And I hope this will be the start of more cooperation to come.
  • When we get to a final bill, I’m very hopeful that that bill will contain items that everyone has an interest in. There’s been a number of people that have introduced bills. I know the ranking member is about to introduce a bill – I have no doubt that there will be things in there that we can all embrace. And I hope that as we get to a final bill, we will have things that we can embrace on a bipartisan basis.

Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) remarked “I think the administration is asking the right questions about China and the U.S.-China relationship…[but] [u]nfortunately, however, I find that the administration’s strategies and policies fall well short of answering the enormity of the challenge.” He contended that “[w]e need, instead, as the title of this hearing suggests, an “effective” China strategy.”

Menendez stated

  • The China of 2020 is not the China of 1972, or even the China of 2000, or 2010. China today is challenging the United States across every dimension of power — political, diplomatic, economic, innovation, military, even cultural, and with an alternative and deeply disturbing model for global governance. China today, led by the Communist Party and propelled by Xi Jinping’s hyper-nationalism, is unlike any challenge we have faced as a nation before.
  • Emboldened by the retrenchment, shortcomings, and sometimes enablement of the Trump administration, China today is more active and more assertive in the region and in the international community than ever before.
  • Indeed, just since this this past March, China has increased its patrols near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as well as its coercive activities in South China Sea, conducted air and maritime patrols intended to threaten Taiwan, clashed with India along the Actual Line of Control (the People’s Liberation Army’s first use of force abroad in 30 years), and continued to implement a morally repugnant campaign of genocide in Xinjiang, its cruel oppression of the Tibetan people, and the crushing of its own civil liberty.

Menendez explained

  • Just yesterday I released a report, “The New Big Brother,” looking at how China has stepped-up its game in seeking to export a new model of digital authoritarianism and manipulate new technologies to control its own citizens and people worldwide.
  • Aside from bluster, rhetoric, and some hastily written sanctions, what has the response been from this administration? The administration is now taking strong action on Hong Kong, but for months, when the people of Hong Kong needed us, the President was silent and complicit in China’s erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, happy to trade Hong Kong for his so-called trade deal. Along with the Chairman, I welcome regular Freedom of Navigation assertions and the administration’s recent clarification of our approach to claims in the South China Sea, but the reality is that over the past three years China’s aggression and coercion in the South China Sea has continued completely unchecked.

Menendez said “[i]n short, I am deeply concerned that the Administration’s approach is one that labors under the mistaken belief that just being confrontational is the same thing as being competitive.” He asserted

  • That is my question, in fact, about the action that the administration announced today in Houston. I am all for safeguarding our national security. I understand the importance of being tough with China. But being tough is the means, not the ends. So while there may be reason for taking this action — and I look forward to a briefing on it in an appropriate setting — I want to understand better not just the tactical considerations, but how this measure advances our strategy. What is the effect we expect this to have on China’s behavior? When China “retaliates,” as they have said they will, what will be our next move? And our next after that? I’m obviously not asking you to disclose specific actions, which I know you won’t, and shouldn’t, but as this is not a simple two-step dance, so help me understand where you think this is going.
  • I ask this because there should be little doubt that we are indeed in a new era of strategic competition with China — and the United States needs a new strategic framework and a new set of organizing principles to address the challenges of this new era. So far, and despite all the bluster, that effective new strategy has been utterly lacking from this administration.

Menendez continued

  • One of these core organizing principles, I would suggest, is the importance of working in close coordination with our allies and partners to develop a shared and effective approach to China. And I have to say, Secretary Biegun, that the administration’s disastrously wrong-headed, alienating, and attacking approach to our alliances has been one of the most disheartening to witness these past several years.
  • Our alliances, our partnerships, and the shared values on which they stand, and our reliability in the face of adversity are our “special sauce” for effective global leadership. 

Menendez contended

  • I know you will argue that this president and this administration have been uniquely successful with China.
  • I know that you are good at your job. But facts are indeed stubborn things.
  • Now, before this hearing devolves into a hearing bashing China and the World Health Organization for the COVID pandemic, let me assure you I stand second to no one in this body regarding concerns over how China’s paranoid totalitarianism contributed to its spread. But blame game politics won’t save American lives. Instead of relying on science and knowledge, the administration has spent its energy towards finding fault and racially inflammatory rhetoric that both threatens the safety and wellbeing of Asian Americans and further alienates us on the global stage, including at the G-7 and the UN Security Council.
  • If this administration is truly concerned about China’s malign intent at the World Health Organization and elsewhere, there is a simple solution — show up. Take action. If the U.S. leads, others will follow. If we leave the field open, if our own country cannot develop a serious strategy at home, others, like China, are only too eager to step into the vacuum.

Menendez added

  • I know the Chairman has introduced legislation today on China. I welcome his effort. As I mentioned at another hearing this morning, I am also working with colleagues on a bill to create a comprehensive China strategy, crosscutting jurisdictions beyond and including this committee, including trade and economic issues and investments here at home, which we plan to shortly introduce. Given the shortcomings of President Trump’s “all bluster and tactics, no strategy” approach to China, a comprehensive and integrated approach is needed. I suspect that there will be many areas of agreement between my bill and the Chairman’s, and so look forward to working with him on a combined approach.
  • And it is in this spirit, Mr. Secretary, that I implore you today to engage beyond this hearing in a genuine conversation with us about how we work together to develop a comprehensive approach to China, to reset our strategy and diplomacy, to reinvest and replenish the sources of our national strength and competitiveness at home, to place our partnerships and allies first, and that reflects our fundamental values as Americans.

Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun stated

  • Over the course of many years and across multiple administrations, in our relations with Beijing, the United States has sought to spur China’s integration into the rules-based international order by strengthening, not undermining, international law, norms, and institutions. Over more than three decades, U.S. policies towards China have been aimed at that goal – by supporting China’s economic development through the massive outpouring of international assistance and lending to develop infrastructure and economic institutions; by beneficial trade treatment and robust foreign investment; by facilitation of Chinese membership in global institutions such as the World Trade Organization; by development and humanitarian assistance, by the education of millions of China’s brightest scholars at our best schools; and by intensive commercial diplomacy to address strategic and sectoral economic concerns. We anchored economic and diplomatic policies toward China in the expectation that they would produce the gradual but eventual opening and liberalization of China and its peaceful rise in a manner that would enhance stability in the Indo- Pacific and beyond, increase the freedoms of its own people, and expand global prosperity in a mutually beneficial manner.Where this Administration diverges from previous Administrations is in the will to face an uncomfortable truth in the U.S.-China relationship – the policies of the past three decades have simply not produced the outcome for which so many had hoped. As stated in the 2017 National Security Strategy: “(f)or decades, U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China. Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others. China gathers and exploits data on an unrivaled scale and spreads features of its authoritarian system, including corruption and the use of surveillance. It is building the most capable and well-funded military in the world, after our own. Its nuclear arsenal is growing and diversifying. Part of China’s military modernization and economic expansion is due to its access to the U.S. innovation economy, including America’s world-class universities.”
  • As further stated in the National Security Strategy, “(a)lthough the United States seeks to continue to cooperate with China, China is using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to further its political and security agenda. China’s infrastructure investments and trade strategies reinforce its geopolitical aspirations. Its efforts to build and militarize outposts in the South China Sea endanger the free flow of trade, threaten the sovereignty of other nations, and undermine regional stability. China has mounted a rapid military modernization campaign designed to limit U.S. access to the region and provide China a freer hand there. China presents its ambitions as mutually beneficial, but Chinese dominance risks diminishing the sovereignty of many states in the Indo-Pacific. States throughout the region are calling for sustained U.S. leadership in a collective response that upholds a regional order respectful of sovereignty and independence.”
  • Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo summed up this strategic shift in his October 30 speech: “It is no longer realistic to ignore the fundamental differences between our two systems and the impact that…the differences in those systems have on American national security…Today, we are finally realizing the degree to which the Communist Party is truly hostile to the United States and our values.”
  • An honest assessment of trends in the U.S.-China relationship suggests that reconsideration of U.S. policy toward China is urgent and overdue. The United States must respond with the full toolkit of policy instruments. These instruments will be adapted to defend against PRC efforts to undermine U.S.-supported institutions, respond to actions that encroach upon the sovereign interests of our allies and partners, hold the PRC accountable for its human rights violations and abuses, and respond to Chinese policies that fail to provide reciprocal opportunities for equivalent U.S. entities.
  • Concerns about Beijing’s policies are fueled by a growing number of disputes and areas of concern. These longstanding areas of concern include intellectual property theft and commercial espionage (including through cyber-enabled means), unequal treatment of U.S. diplomats, exporters and investors, non-governmental organizations, social media companies, and traditional media outlets and journalists in China, as well as the abuse by PRC security services of the United States’ open and welcoming posture toward Chinese students and researchers.
  • Additional areas of concern include the dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy, liberty, and democratic institutions, military pressure against Taiwan, arbitrary mass detentions and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang, efforts to eliminate Tibetan identity, and the assertion of unfounded maritime claims in the South China Sea. Finally, there is growing alarm in the United States and around the world with the Chinese government’s use of military and economic coercion and state-sponsored disinformation campaigns against the United States and our allies and partners, including, among others, India, Australia, Canada, the European Union, and several individual European governments.

Biegun stated “United States foreign policy toward the People’s Republic of China roughly falls within five broad areas:

  • First, using the full toolkit of United States foreign policy instruments including diplomatic engagement, public diplomacy, foreign assistance, commercial diplomacy, trade law, law enforcement, export controls and sanctions, and military deterrence;
  • Second, steady application of pressure to push back the PRC’s attempt to change and replace the U.S.-led free and open international order in areas of dispute or competition;
  • Third, reciprocal and transparent treatment of PRC institutions and organizations commensurate with PRC treatment of equivalent U.S. entities;
  • Fourth, close cooperation among all U.S. stakeholders in the relationship with the People’s Republic of China, including bipartisan engagement, Congressional-Executive coordination, the expert and think tank community, academia, business and civil society;
  • And fifth, strengthening international cooperation with allies and partners on shared concerns with the conduct of the Chinese Communist Party, with special emphasis in the Indo-Pacific.

Biegun asserted

The United States and the PRC are likely for the foreseeable future to remain competitors, but this does not mean our two nations need to be enemies. As the Administration has reiterated, we seek a constructive and results-oriented relationship with Beijing, and we will cooperate with China where our interests align. U.S. policies are designed to protect our interests, we do not envision a zero sum game as long as China abides by the key principle of reciprocity and transparency. Indeed, we want to see a prosperous China that is at peace with its own people and with its neighbors. Historically, in shaping the U.S.-China relationship, numerous Presidents have engaged with China’s leaders in direct diplomacy and held any number of strategic dialogues, sectoral dialogues, and security dialogues over the past several decades to resolve problems and advance mutual interests.

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