July 22, 2020

Menendez Opening Remarks at Hearing on Advancing Effective U.S. Competition With China: Objectives, Priorities, and Next Steps

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s committee hearing entitled “Advancing Effective U.S. Competition With China: Objectives, Priorities, and Next Steps.” Testifying at today’s hearing was Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun.  

“I am deeply concerned that the Administration’s approach is one that labors under the mistaken belief that just being confrontational is the same thing as being competitive,” stated Menendez. “Instead of relying on science and knowledge, the administration has spent its energy towards finding fault and racially inflammatory rhetoric that both threatens the safety and wellbeing of Asian Americans and further alienates us on the global stage, including at the G-7 and the UN Security Council. If this administration is truly concerned about China’s malign intent at the WHO and elsewhere, there is a simple solution: show up. Take action. If the U.S. leads, others will follow. If we leave the field open, if our own country cannot develop a serious strategy at home, others, like China, are only too eager to step into the vacuum.”

Ranking Menendez also addressed the Trump Administration’s latest decision ordering China to shut down its consulate in Houston, Texas. “While there may be reason for taking this action — and I look forward to a briefing on it in an appropriate setting — I want to understand better not just the tactical considerations, but how this measure advances our strategy,” Menendez added. “What is the effect we expect this to have on China’s behavior? When China ‘retaliates,’ as they have said they will, what will be our next move?”

Below are Ranking Member Menendez’s full remarks as delivered:

 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Secretary Biegun, my thanks for joining us here today, especially as it’s been so long since we’ve had a senior administration witness before this Committee.

As you and I have discussed, I think the administration is asking the right questions about China and the U.S.-China relationship. Unfortunately, however, I find that the administration’s strategies and policies fall well short of answering the enormity of the challenge.

We need, instead, as the title of this hearing suggests, an “effective” China strategy. 

The China of 2020 is not the China of 1972, or even the China of 2000, or 2010. China today is challenging the United States across every dimension of power — political, diplomatic, economic, innovation, military, even cultural, and with an alternative and deeply disturbing model for global governance. China today, led by the Communist Party and propelled by Xi Jinping’s hyper-nationalism, is unlike any challenge we have faced as a nation before.

Emboldened by the retrenchment, shortcomings, and sometimes enablement of the Trump administration, China today is more active and more assertive in the region and in the international community than ever before.

Indeed, just since this this past March, China has increased its patrols near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as well as its coercive activities in South China Sea, conducted air and maritime patrols intended to threaten Taiwan, clashed with India along the Actual Line of Control (the People’s Liberation Army’s first use of force abroad in 30 years), and continued to implement a morally repugnant campaign of genocide in Xinjiang, its cruel oppression of the Tibetan people, and the crushing of its own civil liberty.

Just yesterday I released a report, “The New Big Brother,” looking at how China has stepped-up its game in seeking to export a new model of digital authoritarianism and manipulate new technologies to control its own citizens and people worldwide.

Aside from bluster, rhetoric, and some hastily written sanctions, what has the response been from this administration?

The administration is now taking strong action on Hong Kong, but for months, when the people of Hong Kong needed us, the President was silent and complicit in China’s erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, happy to trade Hong Kong for his so-called trade deal.

Along with the Chairman, I welcome regular Freedom of Navigation assertions and the administration’s recent clarification of our approach to claims in the South China Sea, but the reality is that over the past three years China’s aggression and coercion in the South China Sea has continued completely unchecked.

The United Kingdom’s change of policy on Huawei, while welcome, was, I would suggest, despite us, not because of us.

And on trade and economics, this administration has walked away from building regional architecture, embraced a so-called phase one trade deal, which seemingly achieves nothing, certainly does not address the core structural issues in the relationship, and leaves us, in the worlds of your own U.S. Trade Representative, wondering what the “end goal” of your trade policy is. If he doesn’t know, we all have a real problem.

On Taiwan, I’d note that in every year of the Obama-Biden administration, Taiwan was invited to the World Health Assembly. In no year of the Trump administration has that been the case.

I could go on.

In short, I am deeply concerned that the Administration’s approach is one that labors under the mistaken belief that just being confrontational is the same thing as being competitive.

That is my question, in fact, about the action that the administration announced today in Houston. I am all for safeguarding our national security. I understand the importance of being tough with China. But being tough is the means, not the ends. So while there may be reason for taking this action — and I look forward to a briefing on it in an appropriate setting — I want to understand better not just the tactical considerations, but how this measure advances our strategy. What is the effect we expect this to have on China’s behavior? When China “retaliates,” as they have said they will, what will be our next move? And our next after that? I’m obviously not asking you to disclose specific actions, which I know you won’t, and shouldn’t, but as this is not a simple two-step dance, so help me understand where you think this is going.

I ask this because there should be little doubt that we are indeed in a new era of strategic competition with China — and the United States needs a new strategic framework and a new set of organizing principles to address the challenges of this new era. So far, and despite all the bluster, that effective new strategy has been utterly lacking from this administration.

One of these core organizing principles, I would suggest, is the importance of working in close coordination with our allies and partners to develop a shared and effective approach to China. And I have to say, Secretary Biegun, that the administration’s disastrously wrong-headed, alienating, and attacking approach to our alliances has been one of the most disheartening to witness these past several years.

Our alliances, our partnerships, and the shared values on which they stand, and our reliability in the face of adversity are our “special sauce” for effective global leadership. 

This value-driven diplomacy is one of the reasons why Senator Rubio and I have joined colleagues around the globe to form the International Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) — to provide the vision and leadership and build the relationships needed for our strategic success.

I know you will argue that this president and this administration have been uniquely successful with China.

I know that you are good at your job. But facts are indeed stubborn things.

Now, before this hearing devolves into a hearing bashing China and the World Health Organization for the COVID pandemic, let me assure you I stand second to no one in this body regarding concerns over how China’s paranoid totalitarianism contributed to its spread. But blame game politics won’t save American lives. Instead of relying on science and knowledge, the administration has spent its energy towards finding fault and racially inflammatory rhetoric that both threatens the safety and wellbeing of Asian Americans and further alienates us on the global stage, including at the G-7 and the UN Security Council.

If this administration is truly concerned about China’s malign intent at the World Health Organization and elsewhere, there is a simple solution — show up. Take action. If the U.S. leads, others will follow. If we leave the field open, if our own country cannot develop a serious strategy at home, others, like China, are only too eager to step into the vacuum.

I know the Chairman has introduced legislation today on China. I welcome his effort. As I mentioned at another hearing this morning, I am also working with colleagues on a bill to create a comprehensive China strategy, crosscutting jurisdictions beyond and including this committee, including trade and economic issues and investments here at home, which we plan to shortly introduce. Given the shortcomings of President Trump’s “all bluster and tactics, no strategy” approach to China, a comprehensive and integrated approach is needed. I suspect that there will be many areas of agreement between my bill and the Chairman’s, and so look forward to working with him on a combined approach.

And it is in this spirit, Mr. Secretary, that I implore you today to engage beyond this hearing in a genuine conversation with us about how we work together to develop a comprehensive approach to China, to reset our strategy and diplomacy, to reinvest and replenish the sources of our national strength and competitiveness at home, to place our partnerships and allies first, and that reflects our fundamental values as Americans.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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