U.S. Senate moves ahead with sweeping effort to counter China
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a meeting on April 14 to consider major bipartisan legislation to boost the country's ability to push back against China's expanding global influence, Senate sources said on Thursday.
The draft measure, seen by Reuters and titled the Strategic Competition Act of 2021, mandates diplomatic and strategic initiatives to counteract Beijing, reflecting hard-line sentiment on dealings with China from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
The bill is intended to address economic competition with China, but also humanitarian and democratic values, such as imposing sanctions over the treatment of the minority Muslim Uighurs and supporting democracy in Hong Kong.
It stressed the need to "prioritize the military investments necessary to achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific." It called for spending to do so, saying Congress must ensure the federal budget is "properly aligned" with the strategic imperative to compete with China.
It would expand the scope of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which scrutinizes financial transactions for potential national security risks. However, like many provisions of the bill, this clause could be changed as it moves through the committee and full Senate.
The draft legislation calls for an enhanced partnership with Taiwan, calling the democratic self-governed island "a vital part of the United States Indo-Pacific strategy" and saying there should be no restrictions on U.S. officials' interaction with Taiwanese counterparts. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province.
The bill also says Washington must encourage allies to do more about Beijing's "aggressive and assertive behavior." And it calls on every federal department and agency to designate a senior official to coordinate policies with respect to strategic competition with China.
"The United States must ensure that all Federal departments and agencies are organized to reflect the fact that strategic competition with the PRC is the United States top foreign policy priority," the draft said, using the acronym for the People's Republic of China.
Another clause would limit assistance to countries hosting Chinese military installations, saying Beijing uses its so-called Belt and Road Initiative to advance its security interests and facilitate greater military access.
Introduced by Senators Bob Menendez, the committee's Democratic chairman, and Jim Risch, its ranking Republican, the draft bill was released to committee members overnight to allow a markup, a meeting during which the panel will discuss amendments and vote, in a week.
The measure is Foreign Relations' contribution to a fast-track effort in the Senate announced in February by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass legislation to counter China.
"Congress is extremely focused on the various challenges that China poses to American interests and is trying to develop effective responses that are within its purview," said Center for Strategic and International Studies Asia expert Bonnie Glaser.
The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on April 14 on its bipartisan measure, titled the Endless Frontier Act, to bolster the U.S. semiconductor industry.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Toby Chopra, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)
© Copyright Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. The information contained in this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Reuters Ltd.