‘Predatory’ Chinese economic tactics have eroded US military might, Senate hears in push for new national security act

Fearing a diminishing US leadership role in Asia, US lawmakers blamed Chinese economic practices and called for a security strategy to counter ‘anticompetitive behaviour’ by foreign countries, among other things

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 May, 2018, 6:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2018, 7:25am

US lawmakers used the threat of China’s increasing military acumen to push for the passage of a new national security act and other legislation meant to boost American leadership in Asia on Wednesday, as they face Beijing’s growing geopolitical influence and technological competitiveness. 

A panel of experts called before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee chaired by Todd Young, a Republican, and Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, endorsed the National Economic Security Strategy Act of 2018 introduced to Congress last month. 

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“America’s national security rests largely on an economic foundation and … predatory economic practices by China and others have undermined that foundation for years,” Young said in the hearing Wednesday in Washington. 

“If left unaddressed, these predatory practices will further endanger not only the prosperity of Americans but also our security. Through a variety of means including outright and systematic theft, China’s predatory practices have eroded and continue to erode our military’s technological superiority.” 

The hearing, which called chairman of the US-China Economic and Security Commission Michael Wessel as a witness, could lead to further action against China as the US government mulls multiple punitive measures in the areas of trade, investment and national security. 

Potential moves include US tariffs on as much as US$150 billion worth of annual imports from China in an effort to coerce Beijing into giving US companies easier access to its markets, a threat that China has responded to by targeting US$50 billion worth of American products. 

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The economic-security act would require the US president to submit a “national economic security strategy” to Congress in 2021 to bolster the National Security Act of 1947. Requirements also include coordination with the National Security Council, the National Economic Council “and the heads of other relevant Federal agencies”.

The bill aims to protect the US defence industrial base, “ensure that the United States leads in research, technology, and innovation”, and “counter anticompetitive economic behaviour, policies, and strategies by foreign individuals and entities”, among other objectives. 

The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (also known as ARIA), co-sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner – who also questioned witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing – was discussed as a potential bulwark against China’s geopolitical influence.

Aria is a “policy framework to enhance US leadership in the Indo-Pacific region and to demonstrate a commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and the rules-based international order”. 

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The other witnesses at the Senate subcommittee hearing, who all largely supported the economic security act and ARIA, included Matthew Goodman, a senior adviser for Asian economics at Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington-based industry association.

“We simply don’t have the kind of analytical capabilities and focus in the White House on this,” Atkinson said of the economic security bill. 

“Making it a mandate that they have to come up with a plan for Congress on the linkage between economic security and national security will make them think harder about this and do the leg work, and that will lead to the kind of institutional cooperation we need with different agencies.”

Additional reporting by Zhenhua Lu, US correspondent.