As pressure on China continues to grow as a result of mounting evidence that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab, prominent Democrats are showing incredible weakness toward America’s number one international adversary.
This week, the Democrat-controlled Senate passed a bill ostensibly designed to counter China’s increasing economic, technological, and military prowess, and while the legislation contained some worthy provisions that earned it tepid bipartisan support from Republican legislators, leading Democrats nonetheless expressed reluctance to embrace a hardline approach to competition with China—some of them even echoing the talking points of the Chinese Communist Party.
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the bill “is not about a zero-sum relationship or resurrecting a Cold War mentality.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who sponsored the bill, said that the U.S. should focus on “build[ing] ourselves up rather than just tear[ing] [China] down.” Meanwhile, a statement released by a group of 65 liberal organizations also cited concerns about a “Cold War mentality” and called the view that China presents a threat to the United States “dangerously short-sighted.”
In a strikingly similar statement to those issued by Democratic lawmakers and liberal activists in the United States, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the legislation is “full of Cold War zero sum thinking” intended to “smear China’s development path” and portray the authoritarian country as an “imaginary enemy,” according to the AP. Shortly after the bill’s passage, China’s Foreign Affairs Committee also issued a statement denouncing the legislation, saying that “this bill seeks to exaggerate and spread the so-called ‘China threat’ to maintain global American hegemony, using human rights and religion as excuses to interfere in China’s domestic politics, and deprive China of its legitimate development rights.”
While the $250 billion bill passed on a bipartisan basis, 68 to 32, the debate revealed stark differences in the two parties’ approach to the China threat, making a truly comprehensive response under a Democratic administration appear increasingly unlikely.
Perhaps the most important provision of the bill, known as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, is the allocation of more than $50 billion in immediate funding for semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing initiatives. Semiconductors are ultra-small computer chips that power consumer and military devices. Experts have warned that America’s reliance on Chinese semiconductor producers leaves the country at a dangerous strategic disadvantage.
Among other funding, the bill also authorizes $81 billion for the National Science Foundation, $17 billion for the Energy Department, and $17.5 billion for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, all in an effort to boost American research and development to compete with China.
As the legislation grew in scope, language was also added, hammering the Chinese Communist Party on its moral and human rights violations, including the mass incarceration of Uyghur Muslims in Northwest China. The bill also calls for a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, slated to be held in Beijing.
In a nod to the evidence that the Virus emerged from a Chinese lab, the bill finally commissions a new study on the origins of the coronavirus after months of Republican appeals for such action—although this is still far less than the move for reparations and accountability that President Trump and others have called for.
Although unrelated to this particular legislation, it is also notable that passage of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act came on the same day President Biden revoked President Trump’s Executive Orders banning Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat. President Trump issued the orders in August of last year after U.S. officials expressed concern that the Chinese Communist Party would have access to the data that Chinese apps collect from American users. The Biden administration claimed that its new approach to “reviewing” the apps was more legally sound, but many Republicans are saying the move only further underscores that Biden and his Democratic allies in Congress are weak on China.
While most Democrats seem content with the provisions of the Innovation and Competition Act, Republicans see the bill as only a step in the right direction, and significantly more action is needed to counter China’s increasingly brazen aggression.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the legislation an “imperfect approach to an extremely consequential challenge” and complained that more Republican amendments were not included. While the bill does set criminal penalties for researchers who fail to disclose foreign support for their projects, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said the included research security provisions don’t go far enough. “A year from now,” Rubio said in a speech on the Senate floor, “[we could] find out… the Chinese have stolen a quarter of the [intellectual property] developed by the money that’s put forward in the bill that was passed.” Rubio voted against final passage of the bill after his attempts to strengthen enforcement of intellectual property protections failed.
Ultimately, many Senate Republicans decided that while stronger action on China is needed, the legislation had enough positive attributes to warrant passage as a first step. The Innovation and Competition Act will next move to the House of Representatives for final passage before President Biden can sign it into law.
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