October 20, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Nominations Hearing for Ambassador to China

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee nomination hearing. The first panel consisted of the Honorable R. Nicholas Burns, nominee to be ambassador to the People's Republic of China.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks for the first panel:

“Well thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“Like many members of the committee, I have known Nick for a long time. We first met in the early part of the last decade in Luxemburg, when he was serving as the ambassador to NATO. I think it is appropriate that Ambassador Burns was appointed to this position which really demands a bipartisan approach, and I think Congress, notwithstanding our other emaciations on other issues, has certainly taken a bipartisan approach to the challenges that China has presented to us and that we will face over the rest of the century, I believe. 

“The position of ambassador to China is one of the most important ambassadorial nominations we will consider in this committee.

“The People’s Republic of China is leveraging its political, diplomatic, economic, military, technological, and ideological power to wage strategic competition against the United States. Chinese Communist Party policies and actions threaten U.S. interests and values, as well as allies and partners, on just about every continent, but particularly in the Indo-Pacific.

“While this challenge will persist for decades, the competition is here, now – and we must act urgently. Advancing U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific region must be our number one foreign policy priority. If confirmed, Ambassador Burns, you will be on the front lines of this competition.

“There are a few priorities that form the foundation of the bipartisan Strategic Competition Act, led by Senator Menendez and myself, which passed through this committee earlier this year.

“First, China’s growing military might is dramatically shifting the regional balance of power in the Indo-Pacific in its favor. We need to counter China’s conventional and nuclear build-up that threatens our interests and our allies.

“Nowhere is China flexing this military might as much as it is in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s President Tsai is right: “If Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system.” It is imperative that we work actively to deter PRC coercion and aggression towards Taiwan.

“Another issue that is not discussed as often – but must be – is China’s pursuit of life sciences research with potential for weaponization, causing concern about potential violations of the Biological Weapons Convention. I have introduced legislation – the Biological Weapons Policy “Act – that would give our country team in China a larger role in ensuring that biological research cooperation with China does not put us, or the world, at risk.

“Second, our diplomatic mission in China must be strengthened to address the economic and political facets of the competition at hand. That includes providing information to decision makers in Washington on how the CCP seeks to exert undue political influence in our open society.

“On the economic front, we must ensure our economic corps in Mission China is up to the task of dealing with new challenges. China is rolling out laws and regulations to punish companies for complying with U.S. law, including our sanctions laws. The Chinese government is also stamping out remaining free market activity by asserting control over its own financial institutions and technology companies.

“Another challenge where we need an active economic corps is addressing pressing supply chain vulnerabilities, especially in technology and health care.

“Of course, advancing human rights must continue to be a central priority in our China policy.

“Ambassador Burns, you face a tough environment – China has said it won’t work with us on anything until the United States gives into the demands of its “two lists.” You and I discussed those lists yesterday, and someday I hope to be able to see those lists. How the Biden Administration plans to deal with that is not clear.

“In our diplomatic engagements, China has repeatedly shown a lack of interest in good-faith discussions. Yet, the administration continues to assert that China can be a partner on a variety of issues, notably climate.

“On Taiwan, I applaud recent defense sales, but we have also seen a lot of unclear messaging, including recent allusions to a “Taiwan agreement.”

“And despite China’s massive and unconstrained nuclear build-up, the administration is considering a ‘sole-purpose’ nuclear declaratory policy that would put U.S. allies at immense risk and shake confidence in U.S. deterrence commitments. I know that our allies have communicated serious objections to the administration on this topic. So far, the administration is refusing to share those communications with Congress.

“This issue is even more important given China’s test this past weekend of a fractional orbital bombardment system carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle. Such a system would allow the PRC to completely circumvent U.S. early warning capabilities and increase the vulnerability of the continental U.S. to a nuclear attack.  

“I look forward to hearing how you plan to address all of these challenges to help us win this competition.

“With that, I yield back. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.” 

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