Apr 13, 2021 - World

Senate committee prepares to vote on sweeping bill to counter China

Illustration of chessboard with red and blue pieces facing each other.

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is preparing to vote on a 280-page bipartisan bill that aims to counter the Chinese Communist Party's global influence.

Why it matters: The bill marks a culmination of years of growing concerns over the rise of an increasingly authoritarian China. It would allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to a raft of new initiatives aimed at helping the U.S. succeed in long-term ideological, military, economic and technological competition.

What's happening: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and ranking member Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) announced the "Strategic Competition Act of 2021" on April 8.

  • The committee is scheduled to vote on the draft bill on April 21. If it passes, it will head to the Senate chamber for further debate.

Details: The bill includes $655 million in funding for foreign militaries in the Indo-Pacific region and $450 million for the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative, which aims to ensure that the U.S. and its partners can operate freely in the region and address threats that arise.

Other new programs and allocations include:

  • $75 million for an ‘‘Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network’’ in the Indo-Pacific as a counterweight to China's Belt and Road Initiative.
  • $100 million for a ‘‘Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership," which would promote secure telecommunications and digital infrastructure in developing markets and promote U.S. exports.
  • $15 million to help U.S. companies exit the Chinese market, diversify their supply chains, and identify alternate markets.
  • $300 million for the ‘‘Countering Chinese Influence Fund," to push back against the Chinese Communist Party's efforts to promote its authoritarian model abroad.

What they're saying: Menendez called the bill an "unprecedented bipartisan effort to mobilize all U.S. strategic, economic, and diplomatic tools for an Indo-Pacific strategy that will allow our nation to truly confront the challenges China poses to our national and economic security."

  • Lisa Curtis, director of the Center for a New American Security's Indo-Pacific Security Program and a former National Security Council director for south and central Asia, said the bill "shows that the U.S. is preparing itself for a whole of government comprehensive approach to meeting the China challenge."
  • If the bill passes, it would be a strong signal to U.S. allies and partners that the U.S. is unified in its approach to Beijing, Curtis added.
  • Curtis also noted that the draft bill also calls for a thorough investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. "The bill notes that 13 countries have raised concerns about the lack of access that the WHO mission to China had to data, facilities and personnel. It’s critical that the Senate has flagged this as an issue," she said.

Context: The Biden administration has made countering China's rising global authoritarianism a key focus.

  • In Washington, there is a high degree of bipartisanship around the idea that China under its current leadership poses a serious threat to U.S. values and interests.

Yes, but: Americans at large are more divided along party lines in their views of China, with 54% of Republicans viewing China as an "enemy" compared to 20% of Democrats, according to a recent poll from Pew Research Center.

Go deeper: Read the draft bill

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