U.S. lawmakers intensify bipartisan efforts to counter China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A bipartisan U.S. congressional push to counteract China picked up steam on Wednesday as a Senate committee overwhelmingly backed a bill pressing Beijing on human rights and economic competition and other lawmakers introduced a measure seeking billions for technology research.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter outside the building of an American company in Beijing, China January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” by 21-1, sending the bill for a vote in the 100-member Senate, even as they voiced a need to do even more to counteract Beijing.

Separately, a group of Senate and House of Representatives lawmakers introduced the “Endless Frontier Act,” calling for $100 billion over five years for basic and advanced technology research and $10 billion to create new “technology hubs” across the country.

Both bills have strong support from both political parties and are expected to eventually become law. The desire for a hard line in dealings with China is one of the few truly bipartisan sentiments in the deeply divided U.S. Congress, which is narrowly controlled by President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats.

The Biden administration supports many provisions of the measures.

“This is a challenge of unprecedented scope, scale and urgency, and one that demands a policy and strategy that is genuinely competitive,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate panel.

He and Senator Jim Risch, the panel’s top Republican, wrote the “Strategic Competition” measure together, with Risch telling members it was “truly bipartisan.”

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The 280-page Senate bill addresses competition with China through efforts such as increasing international development funding. It pushes humanitarian and democratic values, like imposing sanctions over the treatment of the minority Muslim Uighurs and supporting democracy in Hong Kong. [L1N2M113C]

The bill stresses the need to “prioritize the military investments necessary to achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific.” It recommends a total of $655 million in Foreign Military Financing funding for the Indo-Pacific region for fiscal 2022 through 2026, and a total of $450 million for the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative and related programs for the same period.

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.

The two measures are part of a fast-track effort announced in February by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass a wide range of legislation to counter China. Schumer is a lead sponsor of the Endless Frontier bill.

Foreign Relations committee members said they want 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,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney said. “…I would suggest we have a lot more work to do.”

Eric Sayers, who studies technology policy and U.S. defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, called the legislation an important part of efforts to address challenges posed by China.

The proposed spending builds on earlier legislation “taking a bold step in the technology competition with China through investing in our domestic competitiveness and building new resilience in our supply chains,” Sayers said.

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Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Howard Goller and Sonya Hepinstall

Source: Reuters

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