The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday greenlighted a bill pressing China on human rights, economic competition and malign influence operations.
Passed with a vote of 21 against one, the sweeping bipartisan Strategic Competition Act aims to counter China’s growing global influence.
“There has been no shortage of discussion in recent years about the need to reimagine our nation’s competitive posture towards China. There has, however, been a lack of results — until today,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairperson of the committee.
“With this overwhelming bipartisan vote, the Strategic Competition Act becomes the first of what we hope will be a cascade of legislative activity for our nation to finally meet the China challenge across every dimension of power, political, diplomatic, economic, innovation, military and even cultural,” he said.
The legislation allocates US$10 million to “promote democracy” in Hong Kong and US$300 million for a new “Countering Chinese Influence Fund” to push back against Beijing’s promotion of its authoritarian model overseas.
“From the beginning, I have said that any China legislation needs to be strong, actionable, and truly bipartisan. I believe the package we passed out of committee today meets those criteria,” said Senator Jim Risch, a senior Republican on the Senate panel.
In particular, he highlighted the bill’s significance in higher education. “This legislation addresses my top priority: confronting the Chinese Communist Party’s political influence across our higher education institutions,” Risch added, noting how the CCP “undermines freedom of speech and debate on campus, and poses real risks of intellectual property theft.”
The legislation also designates US$15 million for U.S. consulates to hire experts and help American firms exit the Chinese market and diversify their supply chains. As a counterweight to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, US$75 million will be spent on an ’'Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network’' to advance sustainable, transparent and high-quality infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific.
To combat the CCP’s export of digital authoritarianism, US$100 million is designated for a “Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership,” which would advance secure telecommunications and digital infrastructure in developing markets and improve the cybersecurity capabilities of partner countries.
The legislation will be debated and voted by the full Congress, before it is signed into law by the U.S. President. Despite the passage of the bill, some lawmakers called on the Biden administration to do more.
“I don’t believe anyone would think that this legislation is going to change China’s march toward a global hegemony of autocracy and repression ... I would suggest we have a lot more work to do,” said Republican Senator Mitt Romney.
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