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Menendez Opening Statement at Senate Hearing on Hong Kong and Indo-Pacific Region

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks at the start of a hearing titled, “U.S. Policy in the Indo-Pacific Region: Hong Kong, Alliances and Partnerships, and Other Issues.”

“Thank you for joining us today Assistant Secretary Stilwell.  Almost three years into the Trump Administration it is nice to have a confirmed Assistant Secretary finally in place. I think you’ll find a great deal of agreement on this Committee about the importance of the Indo-Pacific for the future of our security and prosperity and addressing the China challenge. We all know the statistics about the region’s economic dynamism, the number of the world’s major militaries, the nuclear proliferation challenges, the governance challenges, and the opportunities to grow regional architecture.

Likewise—and I know it may surprise you to hear this—but I agree with the Trump administration’s idea behind its Indo-Pacific Strategy. But the administration has yet to demonstrate how this ‘strategy’ will be fully resourced and properly implemented, or that it is a policy that actually makes us more competitive with China, not just more confrontational towards China.

China’s rise presents something different from our experience of the past 240 years: a nation with an economy equal or greater than our own, and a competitor across every dimension of power.

With Xi Jinping declaring himself president for life, cracking down on civil society and human rights, introducing an Orwellian system of mass surveillance, advancing militarily in the South China Sea and economically in Africa and the Western Hemisphere. Over the past three decades China has sought to emerge as a regional military hegemon, including through increasingly provocative behavior in the maritime domain which directly affect U.S. interests, including the free flow of commerce, freedom of navigation, and in the peaceful resolution of disputes consistent with international law

When it comes to trade, over the past decade we have witnessed China increasingly bend the rules to its own benefit in order to secure its position as the world’s second largest economy.

So we agree on the challenge, and I think we would all welcome the emergence of a China that follows established international economic rules, and supports international institutions, laws, and norms.

But thus far the Trump administration’s China policy does not seem to be having any effect in shaping or deterring China. For example: China’s aggressive maritime activities in the South China Sea and on-going building of infrastructure that could easily be turned to military use continues unchecked.

China has yet to make any significant concessions on any of the deep structural issues at the heart of our trade and economic imbalance. Instead China is going toe-to-toe in a ‘good’ and ‘easy to win’ trade war and our economy is suffering.

China’s ‘belt and road’ continues to expand and make in-roads around the world.

China continues to provide support for North Korea even as North Korea continues to move forward with its missile and nuclear programs unconstrained, while the United States no longer conducts necessary military readiness exercises on the Peninsula.

China’s digital authoritarianism continues apace, with ever-greater repression at home, and exporting fully installed systems for despots around the globe.

China’s great leap backwards on human rights and governance is gathering momentum, with the administration conspicuously silent as the people of Xinjiang and Tibet suffer, and Chinese civil society space is crushed.

Beijing continues to squeeze Taipei, including this week the loss of yet another of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies on Trump’s watch.

The list goes on.  If this is what winning with China looks like I am truly tired to the point of exhaustion.

We must remember that merely being more confrontational with China does not make us more competitive with China.

We have to leverage all of the tools in our toolkit. We must resource the Indo-Pacific strategy.  The Trump administration is still far below the Indo-Pacific resourcing for our diplomacy and development of the final years of the Obama administration.

Last week I met with a senior elected official from an allied government in the region who told me that, ‘we have to rebuild our crumbling alliance.’ I’m not naïve enough to take what people tell me at face value.  But one only has to look around the region to know that those words ring true.

We must address our own economic challenges and ensure America can compete with China as it assumes a global role and the Belt and Road Initiative.

We must work with recipient Belt and Road countries to strengthen their ability to negotiate good terms for Chinese investment, or else risk having the rule of law in these developing nations washed away in a flood of Chinese cash.

We can help set standards, offer technical and diplomatic support, stand up for human rights, including for labor and the environment, and support institutions that empower the weak to pursue justice with the strong.

And as I prepare new legislation to bolster our economic diplomacy and statecraft, I hope we can all agree that such efforts must be paired with bold efforts to prepare  the American people to succeed in this new world.

So let me end this morning by making one last comment—which I share with the Chairman—about Hong Kong, which I know we’ll address in the course of the hearing – and where I am working with my colleagues on bipartisan legislation with the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

The special character of Hong Kong is one of the world’s great success stories.  The vibrancy of the people of Hong Kong and their economic success and their yearning for democracy and self-governance is inspirational. It is critical that the United States stands with the people of Hong Kong.

I have been disturbed by some of the rhetoric from the senior-most levels of this administration regarding Hong Kong over the past several months, as well as the suggestions that Hong Kong might be on the chopping block for a trade deal.

So I look forward this morning, Mr. Secretary, to a clear and uncompromising statement about our support for the people of Hong Kong in their quest to maintain their self-governance and autonomy, to safeguard their human rights, and the exercise their democratic freedoms, of speech, of assembly, to select their own leaders, and to determine their own future.

I hope we’ll hear that from you, and I thank the Chairman.”