The legislative plan shows that Democrats and Republicans in the new Congress will continue the previous administration’s hard-line stance against Beijing.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a hearing Wednesday (March 17) on the U.S.-China strategic rivalry that he expects to have the major Communist Party-related legislation on the committee’s agenda for a markup vote in mid-April.
“I have agreed to set the markup session for April 14, and it is important that we complete the text of the bill during the recess and give other committee members an opportunity to review it during the calendar,” Menendez said at the hearing, adding, “I expect that the text of the bill will represent a common bipartisan direction on the issue of the Chinese Communist Party. Members will also have the opportunity to make changes to the bill by proposing amendments.”
Once the bill passes through committee, it can be sent to the floor for a vote. The bill must then pass the House before it can be sent to the White House for President Biden to sign into law. With Democrats currently in control of both chambers of Congress, the bill is not expected to face much resistance when it is formally introduced.
In February, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he had directed the relevant committees to draft a major legislative measure to increase U.S. independence and competitiveness in the areas of technology, trade and commerce, and to counteract the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the international arena.
The bill has not yet been formally introduced. However, congressional staffers responsible for drafting and familiarizing themselves with the contents of the draft told Voice of America on condition of anonymity that the contents of the bill are still under discussion and are expected to be completed by the end of March.
The Biden Administration has reversed many of the policies enacted by former President Trump in the nearly two months since he took office. However, the administration has not made any major reversals on the Communist Party issue, replacing them with a comprehensive reassessment of a range of relations with Beijing.
According to U.S. media outlet Axios, the White House is “downplaying its support” for the upcoming bill in Congress. “President Biden welcomes the cooperative efforts of Congressman Schumer and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to identify further measures to strengthen our economic resilience,” a White House official said, adding that Biden will continue to work closely with Democratic leaders in Congress to discuss future legislative measures.
In contrast to the low profile of the executive branch, both parties in Congress have been working non-stop to introduce a succession of different legislative measures each week, all aimed at the Chinese Communist Party. On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., “outcompete China” was clearly one of the few key words that could rally the consensus of the deeply divided Democratic and Republican parties.
Combining Democratic Allies Against a “Strategic Rival”
“Strategic rival” is almost unquestionably the bipartisan answer to how Congress currently characterizes the U.S.-China bilateral relationship.
Menendez said at Wednesday’s hearing that the evolution of Washington and Beijing to their current state is the result of policy choices China has made over the years.
“I think there’s no question that the right basic framework for the U.S.-China relationship today is ‘strategic competition,’ not because we necessarily want it, but as a result of choices that Beijing has made,” Menendez said, adding, “We have to clearly and soberly see Beijing’s intentions and actions, and adjust our policies and strategies accordingly.”
“The United States needs a whole new strategic framework to compete with, and a new set of organizing principles to meet the challenges of this new era,” Menendez continued.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, also echoed Menendez’s words at the hearing.
“As most of us have recognized in recent years, strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China must be the number one priority of U.S. foreign policy, and the challenge posed by the Chinese Communist Party is imminent and we must act accordingly,” Sen. Risch said.
Menendez also mentioned that a central element of the new foreign relations doctrine is to enlist a united front of like-minded allies to work together.
Earlier this month, Menendez and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, led a group of lawmakers to introduce a cross-party bill designed to help the United States build international partnerships in emerging technologies to compete with China in an allied manner.
The Democracy Technology Partnership Act (DTPA) would establish an interagency office at the State Department to coordinate partnerships between the United States and other democracies on emerging technologies, including quantum computing, artificial intelligence, 5G, and semiconductor industry research and standards development.
In addition, the bill would establish a $5 billion International Technology Partnership Fund to help support joint research projects among democracies as well as academia and industry. The bill also calls for the development of strategies to seek alternatives to the purchase of technology from authoritarian regimes.
Overall, the legislative measure is designed to combine the cooperation of democracies in the field of technology and to counter the threat from China. Six bipartisan heavyweights have co-sponsored the bill, including Senate Majority Leader Schumer, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-FL), Sen. Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO).
“Belt and Road Infiltration in Western Hemisphere Raises Bipartisan Concerns
In addition to actively pursuing a cooperative front with democratic countries, lawmakers from both parties are also eagerly seeking to strengthen U.S. relations with countries in Latin America, and the extent to which China’s “Belt and Road” initiative has penetrated several countries in Latin America raises deep bipartisan concerns.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a Democrat from New Hampshire, told a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday that 25 of 35 Latin American countries have Chinese infrastructure projects and 19 countries have joined the Belt and Road Initiative. She further mentioned that the Communist Party of China (CPC) has a strong presence in Latin America. She further mentioned that the Chinese Communist Party has provided more than $120 million in aid to Latin American countries in the fight against the new Epidemic, and that it aims to provide $250 billion in loans to Latin America by 2025. On top of that, the CCP has held at least 44 head of state meetings with Latin American countries since 2015.
“Clearly, they are moving into Europe and into Latin America in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, they have significant diplomatic and economic assistance throughout Latin America,” Shaheen said at the hearing.
Dr. Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the American Foreign Policy Association, called on the U.S. government to create a vision of purpose, in addition to the need to develop policies to counter the Chinese Communist Party.
“We have to have our own vision, we have to know what we want the United States to look like in the world in the future, like what the world will look like in 2049, and then we have to build a plan from there and work with our allies to achieve that vision,” Dr. Economy said at the hearing.
Otherwise we’re going to end up responding to 1,000 different initiatives from China in the future,” she continued. So even though it’s about competing strategically with China, it should really be about finding out exactly what the United States wants the world to look like in 2050 and how we’re going to get there, and I think that’s how we’re going to solve the problem.”