US Senate pushes ahead with tough measures to counter China

New bill addresses economic competition with China while also addressing human rights concerns over Xinjiang, Hong Kong.
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Leaders of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee have introduced new legislation to boost the country’s ability to push back against China’s expanding global influence by promoting human rights, providing security aid and investing to combat disinformation.

The draft measure, titled the Strategic Competition Act of 2021, mandates diplomatic and strategic initiatives to counteract Beijing, reflecting hardline sentiment on dealings with China from Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

US President Joe Biden has continued to take a hard line against China after his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, began a trade war to counter what the US sees as unfair practices, long denied by Beijing.

While announcing his $2-trillion-plus infrastructure spending plan on Wednesday, Biden cast it as an investment in the US’s global competitiveness, particularly versus China which is racing ahead, he said.

“Do you think the rest of the world is waiting around? Do you think China is waiting around?” Biden asked rhetorically.

“They are not waiting but they are counting on American democracy to be too slow, too limited and too divided to keep pace,” he warned.

The 280-page bill, first reported by the Reuters news agency on Thursday, 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.

It stressed the need to “prioritize the military investments necessary to achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific.” It called for the funds to do so, saying Congress must ensure the federal budget is “properly aligned” with the strategic imperative to compete with China.

The bill recommends a total of $655m in Foreign Military Financing funding for the region for the fiscal year of 2022 through to 2026 and a total of $450m for the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative and related programmes for the same period.

It would expand the scope of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which scrutinises financial transactions for potential national security risks. However, like many provisions of the bill, this clause could be changed as it moves through the committee and full Senate.

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