US defense spending bill is tough on China

US Congress paves way for waivers to India from sanctions over Russia

WASHINGTON:  The US Congress has passed the USD 716 billion defense spending bill which has provisions that bar China from participating in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international maritime warfare drill, and prevent its companies from accessing certain telecom equipment for defense and security establishments.

The bill not only seeks to strengthen American defense in the Indo-Pacific region and take a number of restrictive measures against China, but also strengthens its military ties with countries such as India, Australia and Japan to collectively address the “aggressive” Chinese military behavior. “No country has been more aggressive than China in going after American technology in sectors like aviation, robotics, new energy vehicles, and others where the US has established itself as a global leader,” Senator Sherrod Brown said after the John S McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for financial year 2019 was passed by the Senate by 87 to 10 votes.

The bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives last week, and now heads to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign into law, has a bipartisan measure that seeks to strengthen the tools the US uses to block national security threats posed by investments from China and other countries. This provision will ensure that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is better equipped to handle “emerging threats” from China.

“Our bipartisan bill will give CFIUS and our export control agencies tools they need to ensure that these types of investments don’t slip through the cracks,” Brown said. “We have arrived at a new era where China is now in a leading position in terms of technological strength, defense capabilities, composite national strength and with a military which can fight and win,” Senator Marco Rubio said on the Senate floor.

“And you see evidence of these beliefs. You see it in their impressive and massive military buildup and quantum leaps in technological advances. You see how they’re working to destroy the current world order that was built by America and our allies, and now seek to replace it with one that they build and one that will be led by them,” he said. “That’s how they offer loans, not just to get their companies more business, but to give them leverage and footholds in countries and they do so with no questions asked about democracy or human rights,” Rubio said.

The NDAA-2019 has Rubio’s move that denies Chinese companies access to American small business programs and “prevents taxpayer dollars from being awarded to the US’ biggest economic competitor”. Prominent among the several legislative moves which strengthened US posture toward China include provision requiring the Department of Defense to publish photos of Beijing’s “offensive military forces deployed on their fake islands”, to ensure Americans have the resources to understand the “dangerous role” being played by the Chinese government.

It also has a provision to protect the Department of Defense from China’s lobbying efforts and impose a prohibition on it from funding Confucius Institutes “used by the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate American universities for influence and espionage operations”. The provision in NDAA-2019 that bars China from participating in the RIMPAC naval exercises until they cease a range of activities “threatening” US security was moved by Senator Ted Cruz. It reverses a policy set by former president Barack Obama.

The bill preserves the US Commerce Department’s export control authority and prohibits the federal government from purchasing products manufactured by Chinese firms ZTE and Huawei in order to ensure security of US military communication systems. It also protects critical technologies necessary for national security from being accessed by US’ global competitors and requires further investigation into industrial espionage and cyber theft allegedly conducted by China.

An accompanying conference report expressed concern that sufficient information has not been made publicly available in a timely manner regarding China’s reclamation and militarization activities in the South China Sea. It alleged that China has engaged in provocative military activities elsewhere throughout the Indo-Pacific Region, including the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the Indian Ocean.

As such, it urged the Secretary of Defense to give full consideration to the strategic and public interest in selective declassification of China’s activities in the South China Sea and elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific region.

However, the Chinese Embassy in Washington said such provisions in NDAA would undermine the mutual trust between US and Beijing. “We urged the US side to discard the outdated Cold-War and zero-sum mentality,” a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy told The Wall Street Journal. PTI

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