Senate Unveils Sweeping Legislation To Confront China

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Above photo: Sen. Jim Risch, right, speaks to Sen. Menendez, left, during a confirmation hearing on March 23. Photo: Greg Nash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The Strategic Competition Act of 2021 will be voted on by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced a new piece of bipartisan legislation to confront China through prioritized military spending and more arms sales in the Indo-Pacific, sanctions, money for “democracy promotion” in Hong Kong, and other areas where the US seeks to counter Beijing.

The legislation still needs to go through the Committee before being introduced in the Senate, but a draft of the bill, titled the Strategic Competition Act of 2021, was released by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the Committee chairman. Menendez negotiated the bill with Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID).

In a release on the Committee’s website, the 281-page bill was described as the “first major proposal to bring Democrats and Republicans together in laying out a strategic approach towards Beijing — and assuring that the United States is positioned to compete with China across all dimensions of national and international power for decades to come.” Menendez is convening a Committee meeting on April 14th for a vote on the legislation.

The bill calls for the US to strengthen military ties in the Indo-Pacific through arms sales. The bill reads: “The United States should design for export to Indo-Pacific allies and partners capabilities critical to maintaining a favorable military balance in the region, including long-range precision fires, air and missile defense systems, anti-ship cruise missiles, land attack cruise missiles, conventional hypersonic systems, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, and command and control systems.”

To increase arms exports to the region, the bill says the secretary of state and the secretary of defense should “urge allies and partners to invest in sufficient quantities of munitions to meet contingency requirements and avoid the need for accessing United States stocks in wartime.”

The bill recommends a total of $655 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funding for the region from the fiscal year 2022 to 2026. The FMF program gives grants and loans to US allies to buy weapons with. The legislation also calls for $450 million in funding for the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative, an effort by the Pentagon to get more money to confront China.

The bill calls for sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang, which would be in addition to the ones already imposed by the Trump administration and the Biden administration. The legislation would allocate $10 million “to promote democracy in Hong Kong.”

The sprawling legislation also calls for stronger ties with Taiwan and involvement in a global infrastructure project to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Considering there is a bipartisan consensus in Washington that China poses a threat to the US, the bill will likely make it through the Committee and through both chambers of Congress and be signed into law. President Biden has made it clear that he is prioritizing confronting Beijing, framing the US-China relationship as a global ideological competition.