May 19, 2021

Chairman Menendez Makes the Case for Strategic Competition Act as Senate Recalibrates U.S.-China Relations

“The breathtaking scope, scale, and urgency of these challenges demands a policy and strategy that is genuinely competitive. Because of China’s actions, the national security and economic future of the United States depends on framing our relationship with China today through the lens of ‘strategic competition.’”

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today took to the Senate Floor to deliver remarks on the Strategic Competition Act. Introduced by Chairman Menendez and SFRC Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the legislation is an unprecedented bipartisan effort to mobilize all of the United States’ strategic, economic, and diplomatic tools for an Indo-Pacific strategy that enables the U.S. government to compete effectively with China and confront Beijing’s challenges to our national and economic security.

“This is not about a zero-sum relationship or resurrecting a Cold War mentality. This is about recognizing that in the 21st century, our strategic competition will revolve around the geo-economics of the future, and America’s ability to successfully compete in new and emerging technologies and other hotly contested domains,” Chairman Menendez said. “This is about securing a regional and international order for the 21st century built on progressive values, one that encourages healthy and fair economic competition, promotes global security and stability, and strengthens human rights around the world.”

Passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 21-1, the Strategic Competition Act advances concrete cooperation with alliances and partnerships; restores American leadership of international and regional organizations; addresses China’s predatory economic practices; emphasizes economic strength and innovation in technology and digital connectivity; and grounds U.S. policy in our nation’s values and highest aspirations.

Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.

“I appreciate the Presiding Officer’s support about what I am going to speak today - to address one of the most significant foreign policy challenges of our time - which is the U.S.-China relationship. A challenge that the Senate, I believe, is ready to meet with bold, bipartisan action. Just weeks ago, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made history when we passed the Strategic Competition Act of 2021 by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 21-1.

This historic, bipartisan legislation is clear-eyed about the challenges we face, designed to meet this consequential moment in U.S.-China relations.

Over the past few years, China has accelerated its rise to power and sharpened its efforts to undermine the liberal international order that brought the American people and our allies so much prosperity and stability in the 20th century. 

We invited China to be engaged in the international order. We invited them into the World Trade Organization. We invited them into international fora. We opened markets with them, all with the expectation that China, by being ultimately invited into the international order, would be part of the international order.

Unfortunately, instead of playing by the rules, China under Xi Jinping has sought to undermine them.

Today, China is challenging the United States across every dimension of power - political, diplomatic, economic, innovation, military, even cultural, and advancing an alternative and deeply disturbing model for global governance based on old-fashioned military antagonism, predatory economic practices, and digital authoritarianism.

The breathtaking scope, scale, and urgency of these challenges demands a policy and strategy that is genuinely competitive. Because of China’s actions, the national security and economic future of the United States depends on framing our relationship with China today through the lens of ‘strategic competition.’ 

This is not about a zero-sum relationship or resurrecting a Cold War mentality. This is about recognizing that in the 21st century, our strategic competition will revolve around the geo-economics of the future, and America’s ability to successfully compete in new and emerging technologies and other hotly contested domains.

This is about securing a regional and international order for the 21st century built on progressive values, one that encourages healthy and fair economic competition, promotes global security and stability, and strengthens human rights around the world.

So how do we achieve this vision?

Ranking Member Risch and I incorporated input from almost every member of the Committee to build the Strategic Competition Act – I believe the Presiding Officer had amendments as well – which mobilizes all of our strategic, economic, and diplomatic tools to truly confront the challenges China possesses to our national and economic security.

So I am eager to see the Strategic Competition Act move on the floor alongside the other pieces of this package, recognizing as I have for years that America’s ability to compete with China begins at home, replenishing the sources of our national strength. 

That’s why the investments in the Endless Frontier Act provisions and the other domestic measures drafted by various committees are equally important. But even if we did all of those things alone, they would not meet our challenge with China, because, first and foremost, China is a foreign policy challenge.

That’s why the Strategic Competition Act reaffirms our alliances and partnerships. It prioritizes building functional, problem-solving regional architecture in our Indo-Pacific strategy. 

Every witness we had before the Committee as we prepared for this legislation today – we have to get your Indo-Pacific strategy right in order to be able to meet the challenge of China under Xi Jinping.

It promotes U.S. leadership within international organizations, and counters malign efforts by the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party to influence those institutions.

And it grounds our foreign policy in American values by authorizing a broad range of human rights and civil society measures to address abuses in Xinjiang with ethnic Uyghurs, and demonstrates our commitment to the people of Hong Kong, Tibet, and China’s civil society.

It counters China’s predatory economic practices by addressing their rampant intellectual property theft and unfair state subsidies, and helps other countries work together to counter China’s corrupt practices.

China goes throughout the world holding itself out as being generous to nations in Africa, in Latin America, and elsewhere. But what it ends up being is ‘debt trap’ diplomacy where these countries become hostage to China not only economically, but then, on a transactional basis, China says, ‘well you can’t recognize Taiwan anymore.’ Or China says ‘you have to vote with us at the UN in the way we want or at the UN Human Rights Commission,' and at a whole host of other international fora.

And it bolsters U.S. economic statecraft, those economic tools we can deploy to advance our foreign policy goals, like investing in supply chain security, infrastructure development, and digital connectivity and cybersecurity.

Now I do want to take a few minutes today to directly address an emerging line of criticism I have heard that this bill is somehow seeking to ignite a new Cold War with China.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is that for more than forty years, the United States has sought to draw China into the international community as a ‘responsible stakeholder.’ 

But any clear and accurate assessment of China’s behavior, and in particular its behavior in recent years under the hyper-nationalist leadership of Xi Jinping, suggests that simply continuing down that path would only result in disaster for the United States, for China, and for the entire world.

Let’s just review some of China’s actions:

China is committing genocide in Xinjiang against the Uyghur people through forced labor.

China has dismissed out of hand the ruling of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea with regards to its excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea, which it is militarily building up on and trying to intercede in the rightful passage of nations in the South China Sea.

China has walked away from the commitments it made to respect intellectual property rights.

China has chosen to betray its legally-binding obligations and its own commitments to the people of Hong Kong, crushing ‘one country, two systems’ and the vibrant democracy, economic activity and autonomy of the people of Hong Kong.

China refuses to respect the religious, cultural and linguistic autonomy of the Tibetan people, and is seeking to subvert the religious succession of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

China is using its Belt and Road Initiative to exploit lesser-developed economies to its own advantage.

China threatens the efforts of the international community to deal with climate change by building more coal-fired power plants at a rate that outpaces the rest of the world.

So we must empower Americans, our partners, and our allies to protect against these egregious efforts to undermine human rights, security, and our environment.

We simply cannot turn a blind eye to China’s actions or wish it into becoming a better international actor.

Now, I realize that in discussing the Strategic Competition Act, I laid out a laundry list of big, structural policy issues with China that we will need to confront as a nation.

But it is essential that the United States meet this moment if we hope to build a more perfect world – one that reflects our cherished commitment to free societies, free markets, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, and the dignity of all humankind. At the end of the day, that is what the Strategic Competition Act is all about.

So I look forward to robust debate and discussion with my colleagues over the next week or two about how to best restructure and rework U.S. policy towards China so that we can be, after far too long, genuinely competitive.

Together we have to ensure the United States reclaims our place as a leader of nations and a force for good in a chaotic and increasingly complex world.

Mr. President, on another note, I know we have great challenges in the world. We're having a great challenge in the Middle East.

And I would just simply say that I am not a fan of having resolutions brought to the Floor of the Senate without the appropriate consideration of the committee of jurisdiction – in this case the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – so that informed, deliberate debate and consensus agreements come together in the best pursuit of foreign policy.

It is easy to get caught up in the passions of the moment. It is much more difficult to think about what is the right policy and procedure and action the United States should take in any given part of the world.

So I know there's a bunch of resolutions that are being flown around - none of which have gone through the Committee – some that have merit in each and every dimension but also have challenges. They fall short of what I think would need to be done.

And I would urge colleagues to – particularly at this moment – have the restraint. And I would urge the ability for the Committee to be able to consider what is the appropriate course of action whether it be at this time or any other time as our nation faces global challenges.

And with that, Mr. President, I yield the Floor.”

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