September 18, 2019

Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on U.S. Policy in the Indo-Pacific: Hong Kong, Alliances and Partnerships, and Other Issues

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a full committee hearing on "U.S. Policy in the Indo-Pacific: Hong Kong, Alliances and Partnerships, and Other Issues", with witness testimony from The Honorable David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs at the Department of State.

Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

"Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining us.

"Assistant Secretary Stilwell, I am delighted to welcome you to testify before the Committee for the first time in your new role. Since your confirmation on June 1, I believe you have been in at least ten Indo-Pacific countries. You have had an opportunity to engage with our allies and partners, and to begin to tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities in this vital region, and also assess what needs to be done to advance American interests and the Administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy. And so we have asked you here today to share your observations on these topics, and to discuss the priorities and initiatives you plan to focus on in your role.

"I want to start with something that both houses of Congress are intensely focused on, in a very bipartisan manner I might add, and that is the situation in Hong Kong. What we see in Hong Kong is a particularly significant example of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) long record of broken commitments. The CCP’s promise that Hong Kong would maintain a high degree of autonomy was not just a verbal understanding – it was a commitment China made when it signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984. This summer’s protests reflect years of frustration by the Hong Kong people, who are seeing an evaporation of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Though China calls this an internal affairs, the United States has a distinct relationship with Hong Kong comprised of multiple formal agreements and other forms of cooperation. We have a legitimate interest in what happens there.

"U.S. policy should be focused on holding China accountable to its commitments regarding Hong Kong, and we must also support the Hong Kong people in the pursuit of the rights and freedoms they were promised. With those factors in mind, this Committee is working on bipartisan legislation spearheaded by Senators Rubio and Cardin. The Foreign Relations and Banking Committees also recently sent a letter to the Administration regarding the adequacy of U.S. export controls with respect to Hong Kong.

"I look forward to hearing from you regarding the messages the U.S. government is sending to the CCP on Hong Kong, and importantly, our best options for supporting the Hong Kong people.

"China’s actions in Hong Kong and elsewhere will of course figure prominently in today’s conversation. However, I think it is important that we hold a hearing examining the whole region. The Indo-Pacific – home to the three of the world’s largest economies and five of the United States’ seven treaty allies – would be important to the United States even if China was not a factor. We have a significant interest in building on the alliances, partnerships, and connections that have grown between the United States and the region for over two hundred years.

"My home state is a case in point. It has long and deep U.S. ties with the Indo-Pacific. The value of Idaho’s exports to Asia was $2.1 billion in 2018 – more than 80% of Idaho’s exports are sold directly to countries in the Pacific Basin. Multiple Indo-Pacific countries have deep and longstanding economic investments in Idaho. In fact, Taiwan is our second largest source of foreign investment, exceeded only by Canada. And since 2009, we have been the proud home to a Singaporean F-15 training squadron at the Mountain Home Idaho Air Force Base.

"Idahoans are familiar with some of the challenges posed in this region as well. An example I raise often is Micron technology, based in Boise. Their intellectual property was stolen by a Chinese company, who then patented that technology in China and sued Micron. This example speaks to the importance of the United States remaining economically engaged with the region. It is imperative that we work to ensure open markets, fair trading practices, and most importantly the rule of law and adherence thereto. Anything less is unacceptable.

"With all that in mind, we need to support strengthening our allies and growing our partnerships on every front. In the last couple of years, the Administration has announced multiple initiatives focused on the Indo-Pacific, and we look forward to hearing about progress and what more is required.

"There are a lot of areas where the need for that cooperation is evident. We need to reinvigorate our alliance with Thailand following the election earlier this year, while continuing to message to them the importance of freedom of expression and democratic consolidation. The Pacific Islands are an area that is ripe for greater U.S. engagement, and I was glad to see Secretary Pompeo recently announce negotiations regarding compact extensions. We have to maintain our focus on safeguarding the global commons, especially in light of China’s assertive behavior in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. And the coming months are important with respect to U.S. policy towards Myanmar, as that nation heads towards elections in 2020.  

"I look forward to discussing these and many other issues. With that, Senator Menendez."

The Honorable David Stilwell's testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing. 

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