4 Senators Introduce Bill with New Tools to Compete Against China

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Committee Chairman Jim Risch

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Committee Chairman Jim Risch Caroline Brehman/AP

The bill includes major tech proposals, calling for more investment and closer partnerships with allies.

Four Republican senators on the Foreign Relations committee introduced a new bill Wednesday that would put forth a strategy for how the U.S. should compete with China on the world stage, including in the critical area of technology innovation, according to a press release. Democrats said they have a similar bill of their own on the way, too. 

Sens. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Todd Young, R-Ind., announced the Strengthening Trade, Regional Alliances, Technology, and Economic and Geopolitical Initiatives Concerning China, or STRATEGIC, Act  ahead of a Foreign Relations committee hearing on advancing effective competition with China. Risch is the chairman of the committee.

“It’s not enough to just push back against what China’s doing,” Risch said in his opening statement at Wednesday’s hearing. “We also have to strengthen and invest in ourselves.”

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations committee, said that he is currently working on similar legislation to be released soon. Both Menendez and Risch emphasized the room for agreement across party lines on the issue of competition with China. 

At the hearing, Romney criticized both the current and past administrations’ policies toward China during the hearing. He particularly excoriated President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy and Brexit as indicative of the fact that the international community has not done a good enough job working together to counter China’s influence. 

“America looks like we don’t care about bringing the world together in a dramatic way,” Romney said. “I would suggest a summit of the leaders of the major nations of the world and laying out a process to approach China  in a very dramatic way.”

Several committee members echoed Romney’s sentiments, including Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who criticized the Trump administration for “casting allies aside.” He also raised concerns about Trump administration policies that may be driving adversaries, for example, China and Iran, into each other’s arms. 

The STRATEGIC Act addresses those concerns by giving the U.S. new tools to compete. The overarching purpose of the legislation is to establish a long-term plan encompassing economic, military and technological policies that would strengthen the U.S. and its allies in the face of a rising China. Proposals for investment in technological innovation are an important component of the new legislation.  

One of the key technology provisions in the bill would directly address the issue of working together with allies. The legislation would establish a so-called tech coalition, meant to “advance and encourage the use of international technical standards for new and emerging technologies,” according to the text of the legislation. 

The United States and its allies should define and uphold norms related to major areas of tech innovation including cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, telecommunications and quantum computing, to name a few listed in the bill. 

Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun testified at the hearing about the Trump administration’s foreign policy stances toward China. He told Sen. John Barasso, D-W.Y., that the administration supports the U.K.’s decision to ban Huawei from its 5G networks. 

“We’re seeing countries around the world recognize the dangers of bringing companies like Huawei or ZTE into their networks,” Biegun said. He also voiced support for France’s subsequent decision to take similar action against Chinese telecommunications companies. 

The legislation also calls for the creation of a list of intellectual property violators, which would include any state-owned entities harming U.S. industry by stealing proprietary information. The bill calls for the violators list to be updated annually. 

Just a day before the STRATEGIC Act was formally announced, the Justice Department announced two Chinese nationals were indicted on 11 counts related to intellectual property theft. The indictment alleges two men were committing theft online both for personal financial gain and on behalf of the Chinese state for a period of more than a decade. 

Their actions allegedly included stealing information related to coronavirus vaccine research as well as military technology from defense contractors. A Chinese government insider aided the federal grand jury investigating the case. 

“As the Department of Justice unveiled in two of its indictments yesterday we have firm evidence that Chinese hackers, working in close association with Chinese national security institutions, have in fact been trying to steal information related to the development of technologies to treat the coronavirus,” Biegun said. 

Biegun testified that lawmakers would hear more details about recent investigations into intellectual property theft in a classified briefing in the coming days. He said that economic espionage was one of the reasons Trump decided to shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston, a decision which was also announced Wednesday. The consulate is ordered to close by Friday.