September 17, 2020

Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on Advancing U.S. Engagement and Countering China in the Indo-Pacific and Beyond

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a full committee hearing on advancing U.S. engagement and countering China in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, which included discussion of the STRATEGIC Act, legislation Risch introduced earlier this year. The committee heard witness testimony from Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung, Senior Bureau Official for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker, and Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David R. Stilwell.

Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement:

“Welcome everyone and good morning.

“We are going to have senators participating both live and virtually. As a result of that, since it’s difficult to determine when they showed up virtually, what we’re going to do is go on seniority. So if that’s agreeable with everyone, that’s what we will do.

“Today, we welcome three witnesses to talk with us: David Stilwell, who’s Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; Philip Reeker, Senior Bureau Official for the Office of European and Eurasian Affairs; and Julie Chung, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. I appreciate you all being here this morning.

“Today we’re going to be talking about China, and obviously China presents us with many challenges. With opportunities also, but right now challenges.

“There’s been a lot of legislation that has been introduced as far as China is concerned. There was a bill that we introduced earlier this year that tries to bring together as many as possible. I’m told that just recently, maybe today or yesterday, the minority introduced a bill of which Senator Schumer is the lead sponsor of the bill, I’m told.

“But in any event, this is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue. When I put the bill together originally, I did so to bring together a thought process from all sides. We consulted with a number of people, both on this side of the aisle and on the other side of the aisle, and there’s a lot of input from a bipartisan effort in the bill.

“In addition to that, we went out to the think tanks, Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, and got those in the bill. I’m glad to hear there has been this bill introduced by the minority. I’m hoping we can bring them all together into one bill that we can all get behind. Because as I said, this is an American issue. It is not a partisan issue.

“In July, Deputy Secretary Biegun testified before the committee on the administration’s strategy for advancing effective competition with China. Today we will take a deeper look at U.S. strategy in three important regions: the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere.

“This hearing has three objectives.

“First, I look forward to the Department’s assessment of China’s impact in these regions – what China’s interests are and what it is doing to secure those interests. A lot of those activities, of course, are common knowledge and they’re in the popular press. But there are other things going on that I think it’s important we drill down to.

“Second, and even more importantly, we are here today to better understand – in concrete and specific terms – how the United States is advancing our interests, expanding our alliances and partnerships, and countering China’s attempts to undermine prosperity, security, and good governance in these regions.

“Again, that’s an important thing to shed light on for the American people. Certainly, those of us who deal in these kinds of things are well aware of China’s activities everywhere. We all know that virtually anywhere you go in the world, China is there attempting to better its position. I think it’s important that we shine a light on this.

“In the STRATEGIC Act, the bill I talked about that I introduced earlier, I make clear that we must address China as a global challenge. It is my view that our highest priority in American foreign policy must be the Indo-Pacific region. The future of the region is decisive for the United States – both economically and in terms of security.

“Prioritizing the Indo-Pacific means several things. It means expanding our economic engagement in the region’s growing markets, especially in Southeast Asia. It means consistently demonstrating the political will to deepen existing treaty alliances and grow other security partnerships. And it means ensuring the region is resourced properly as a proportion of the State Department’s budget and personnel.

“China’s primary foreign policy objective is to achieve regional supremacy in the Indo-Pacific, and then to use that dominant position to propel itself into becoming a “leading world power.” Getting our policy right in this region impacts our policies in the other regions we’re examining today.

“On Europe, one of my major priorities is to help advance a constructive agenda with our transatlantic partners on the shared challenges China presents. We’re already moving in that direction, and I’ve met with numerous leaders from European countries and exchanged ideas. I can tell you that that idea is hitting a welcoming audience.

“On both sides of the Atlantic, we have strengthened investment screening to protect critical infrastructure and technologies. We are cooperating to uphold the integrity of international institutions. And the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and others are deepening their engagement in the Indo-Pacific.

“This is a good foundation. We can and must build on it together, and thwart the Chinese government’s efforts to divide us from one another. I am very encouraged that the United States has agreed to join the new dialogue on China that was proposed by the European Union, and I look forward to hearing about that and other efforts today.

“In the Western Hemisphere, the negative effects of Chinese influence are clear. This includes China’s predatory finance mechanisms for infrastructure projects all around the world. Projects that are often of questionable value, and create high debt burdens, severe environmental damage, and social unrest. Aggressive and illegal Chinese fishing practices violate the territorial integrity of coastal Latin American countries, raising significant long-term security concerns. And China’s blatant efforts to trade on the lives of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are appalling.

“I am encouraged by President Trump’s efforts to reaffirm U.S. leadership in the region and his willingness to collaborate with our neighbors to promote a more prosperous future through transparent and accountable frameworks.

“Finally, this hearing is an opportunity to conduct oversight of the Department’s coordination of U.S. strategy and initiatives across all these different regions. This coordination is important to ensuring that our strategy is articulated coherently and executed effectively.

“Again, thank you to the witnesses for being here. I’m going to turn it over now to Senator Menendez, who I know shares many of my concerns in this regard, and hopefully we’ll be able to work together to create an American answer.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.

###