By Patricia Zengerle and David Brunnstrom
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 a range of diplomatic and strategic initiatives to counteract Beijing, reflecting hardline 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 the treatment of the minority Muslim Uighurs, suppression of dissent in Hong Kong and aggression in the South China Sea.
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 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 the ability of U.S. officials to interact with Taiwanese counterparts. China considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province.
The bill also says Washington must encourage allies to do more to check 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 is 283 pages long. It 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 the Foreign Relations panel’s contribution to a fast-track effort in the Senate announced in February by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to write legislation to counter China.
The effort is supported by Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration.
The Senate Commerce Committee announced on Wednesday that it would hold a hearing on April 14 on its bipartisan measure to bolster U.S. technology. That bill, titled the Endless Frontier Act, was first proposed in 2020 and calls for $110 billion over five years to advance U.S. technology efforts.
Separately on Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department said it was adding seven Chinese supercomputing entities to an economic blacklist for assisting China’s military.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Toby Chopra and Jonathan Oatis)