America’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party-State has entered a new age — and it’s about time. The Trump administration over the past four years jettisoned the conventional wisdom that once saw the CCP like any other geopolitical competitor, whose authoritarianism and pretensions to global dominance were just another portfolio to be managed.
Beijing itself has also shattered the old American illusions about its rise as it sought to gaslight the world about the coronavirus pandemic’s origins, strangled democracy in Hong Kong, and built a system of industrial-scale prison camps in China’s West. Today’s emerging consensus endorses a no-holds-barred competition with the Party across numerous interconnected areas.
As congressional Republicans fear the reversal of Trump-era gains under the incoming Biden administration, they’re releasing today a suite of legislation designed to codify and expand on them. Information about the legislative push was provided exclusively to National Review ahead of its Thursday-afternoon launch by the Republican Study Committee, the 150-member caucus of conservatives in the House of Representatives that’s leading the charge.
“Republicans must stay united to keep up the same level of pressure on China as we had under Trump the last four years, and these pieces of legislation proposed first by the Republican Study Committee are part of our plan to do that,” said Representative Jim Banks, who will lead the group next year.
The proposals, which span everything from China’s IP theft to prohibiting the use of U.S. funds to purchase goods made by Chinese-military-linked enterprises, are the direct outgrowth of a June 2020 RSC report that called for numerous legislative changes to compete with China. And they complement the work of the House GOP’s China Task Force.
Among the most notable of the RSC proposals is a bill introduced by Representative Steve Chabot that creates an entire category of sanctions to deter the theft of intellectual property by Chinese firms.
Combating IP theft has been a hallmark of the Trump administration’s work on national security. In 2018, the Justice Department established its China Initiative, a program focused on investigating and prosecuting the theft of trade secrets by individuals spying for the Chinese government. During a speech at the Hudson Institute this year, FBI director Chris Wray revealed that his agency opens “a China-related counterintelligence case every 10 hours.”
The RSC bill expands on these efforts, directing the Treasury Department to create a list of IP-related crimes carried out on behalf of the CCP and to sanction the perpetrators. “Taking these steps is the only way to ensure that the Chinese Government takes us seriously, and realizes that the United States will no longer tolerate the continuation of such crimes,” Chabot said in a statement to NR.
Although this bill, in addition to others that will be introduced by Representatives Debbie Lesko and Ken Buck, aim to protect American businesses from IP theft, they implicate other crucial issues.
“Members of the RSC are putting the Chinese Communist Party on notice that Congress will not tolerate their continued theft of intellectual property and human-rights abuses,” Representative Joe Wilson, who leads the group’s national-security task force, told National Review, drawing a link between the two issues. All of this is to say that the theft of intellectual property doesn’t just harm American companies; it also contributes to Chinese military research, and stolen technologies have played a role in the CCP’s human-rights atrocities.
It’s an important reminder as Joe Biden prepares to take office. It remains to be seen whether his administration intends to adopt the key Trump administration framework of linking seemingly distinct issues in the U.S.-China relationship. As the RSC’s members, the White House, State Department, and others have laid out in a number of documents over the past several months, no single issue in the U.S.-China relationship can be tackled in isolation.
If Biden seeks negotiations with China over climate change, as many analysts and observers in the president-elect’s orbit have urged, the Chinese would almost certainly ask for concessions in other areas. The same goes for cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic and getting the support of the People’s Republic for U.S. initiatives at the U.N.
China hawks might be encouraged by Biden’s apparent embrace of a more stringent U.S. policy toward the People’s Republic — his campaign, for example, pledged to designate the Xinjiang mass atrocities a genocide and push back against the Chinese censorship regime’s emergence on U.S. soil — but they might miss the Trump team’s unequivocal stand against China’s malign activities around the world.
The sense that the CCP is a global threat that must be confronted is one nevertheless shared by Republicans and Democrats alike on the Hill — most recently, the House passed bipartisan legislation to delist foreign companies from U.S. stock exchanges that fail to certify their independence from foreign powers, a move that primarily targets Chinese firms. The two parties also share a similar resolve to confront Beijing’s trampling of human rights.
They diverge in some other key respects, though. One RSC proposal likely to face pushback from Democrats would prevent the U.S. government from issuing visas to senior CCP officials and officers in the People’s Liberation Army.
This is a significantly narrower proposal than one considered by the Trump administration to ban the Party’s over 90 million members from entering the United States. Still, visa restrictions targeting Chinese researchers with potential military ties have previously been met by charges of xenophobia and racism.
With little time left before the adjournment of the current session, these bills stand scant chance of becoming law — or even getting a vote — in the near future. But they set a benchmark, and draw partisan lines of battle, for future debate about how best to push back against the CCP during the Biden presidency.