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'Congress on China: Then and Now'

Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)

Malcolm Riddell

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CHINADebate

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Scott Kennedy | CSIS

'Congress on China: Then and Now'
'Congress on China: Then and Now'
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BIG IDEA | ‘With the Senate voting on June 8, 2021, to adopt the United States Innovation and Competitiveness Act, it is safe to say that this is the most comprehensive action by Congress on China policy EVER.’
‘The language of the United States Innovation and Competitiveness Act is about a long-term competition with China as opposed to war with an enemy.’

‘With the Senate voting on June 8, 2021, to adopt the United States Innovation and Competitiveness Act by a vote of 68 to 32, it is safe to say that this is the most comprehensive action by Congress on China policy EVER.’

  • ‘The House of Representatives still has to consider the legislation, and it is likely that the contours of a final product will be changed.’

‘Nevertheless, this is a historic moment for two reasons:’

  1. ‘the scope of the legislation and’
  2. ‘the contrast with the last major congressional action on China just over 20 years ago when China was on the edge of entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).’

‘The Senate’s bill is not a singular strategic initiative designed and authored by a single legislator or within a single committee; instead, it pulls together multiple pieces of legislation and ideas from a large number of senators on different committees.’

  • ‘Many of these elements were originally introduced last year in the wake of the pandemic, which led to a large leap in introduced bills, only a few of which made it over the finish line in 2020.’

‘Although pieced together—and still unfinished—the bill adds up to a coherent strategic statement on China policy.’

  • ‘It includes a vision of the nature of the relationship—a strategic competition framed in ideological terms, between free-market democracies and a state-capitalist autocracy.’
  • ‘It puts forth broad policy goals on a wide range of issues and with respect to every part of the globe, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East to the Arctic.’
  • ‘There is substantial attention to strengthening U.S. defenses on economic issues, dual-use technologies, and cyber. And, most prominently, it commits a historic level of spending—over $250 billion—for research and development (R&D), advanced manufacturing, and improving supply-chain resilience.’

‘This congressional effort on China is without a doubt unprecedented in scale and scope.’

‘There have been two other big moments when Congress weighed in on China policy in a major way that had a substantial effect on the substance and direction of U.S. policy.’

  • ‘In April 1979, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, providing a greater legal foundation than executive branch actions for unofficial U.S.-Taiwan relations, including U.S. military support.’
  • ‘And in 2000, Congress voted to give China permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status. The PNTR put a foundation under U.S.-China commercial relations and ushered in a period in which U.S. policy was centered around the goal of integrating China into the international system.’

‘Although major actions, these two still would pale in comparison to the Innovation and Competitiveness Act, should it become law.’

  • ‘This congressional effort on China is without a doubt unprecedented in scale and scope.’

What also comes through from the new measure is how Congress’s view of China has fundamentally flipped.’

  • This bill reconfirms the fact that the United States has abandoned a strategy of facilitating China’s integration into the international system with the expectation that such efforts would result in a more open, market-oriented Chinese economy, a more liberal political environment, and less aggressive activity internationally.’
  • There is an unsettled debate about whether the strategy was ever valuable or was ill-fated from the outset.’

‘The language of the bill is about a long-term competition with China as opposed to war with an enemy.’

  • ‘Congress has taken a hawkish turn, but it is still pursuing a multifaceted approach that does not foreclose the possibility that U.S.-China relations could eventually be stabilized and not devolve into violent conflict.’
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