U.S. lawmakers look to advance sweeping bid to counter China

By Patricia Zengerle and Michael Martina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. lawmakers expect to boost the country’s ability to push back against China if a Senate panel approves sweeping legislation on Wednesday as expected, even as they voiced a need to do far more to counter Beijing.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee members were debating the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” and considering amendments, before voting on whether to send it for a vote in the 100-member Senate.

The measure has strong support from both political parties and was co-sponsored by Senators Bob Menendez, the panel’s chairman, and Jim Risch, its top Republican, making it a rare major bipartisan initiative in the deeply divided Senate.

“This is a challenge of unprecedented scope, scale and urgency, and one that demands a policy and strategy that is genuinely competitive,” Menendez said.

Risch said the bill is “truly bipartisan.”

The 280-page measure, details of which were first reported by Reuters on April 8, addresses economic competition with China, but also humanitarian and democratic values, such as imposing sanctions over the treatment of the minority Muslim Uighurs and supporting democracy in Hong Kong.

The bill is 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.

A separate bill calling for $100 billion in government spending over five years on basic and advanced technology research and science in the face of competition from China, was introduced on Wednesday.

“Having something that is embedded into the statutory framework, that is durable and enduring, is really important, particularly if you’re looking at the sort of competition that we envisage with the People’s Republic of China in the years and decades ahead,” a Democratic congressional aide told reporters on a conference call before the committee meeting.

But 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.”

The legislation calls for hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, much of which still must be arranged.

“We are acutely aware of the need to make sure that the resources are aligned with the enormity and scale of the challenge that we face across every dimension of power,” the aide said.

The foreign relations committee also was due to consider a bill to counter Chinese censorship in the United States, as U.S. officials have complained that Beijing has sought to suppress opposition to its ruling Communist Party by coercing U.S. companies to take pro-Beijing stances and suppressing free speech on U.S. university campuses.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. Senate moves ahead with sweeping effort to counter China

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)