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China aims to supplant U.S. global leadership. If Beijing prevails, it will usher in a more authoritarian world where human rights, free markets and the rule of law are not respected. History will judge the next Congress in part based on how successfully it confronts this threat.
In the last few years, Washington has shed much of its naïveté vis-à-vis China. Few still believe that greater engagement will lead to a freer, more open China. Four decades of engagement strategy succeeded only in turning a cash-strapped authoritarian regime into a totalitarian economic powerhouse.
The next Congress will have to develop effective legislation to deal with the consequences of that failed strategy — everything from Beijing’s dominance of critical supply chains to its military expansion and modernization.
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Thus far, congressional action hasn’t been very effective. This is partly because lawmakers are in uncharted territory. Not since the American Revolution has this country had to grapple with such a powerful adversary that enjoys so much leverage over the U.S. economy.
Politics are also to blame. Much of the legislation passed so far has done little to strengthen America or weaken Beijing. Rather, it seems designed primarily to help individual politicians appear to be tough on China.
The new Congress will have to rise above political posturing and flashy headlines and instead formulate serious solutions that strengthen U.S. global leadership and protect our country from Beijing’s pernicious influence. At the same time, they must avoid being needlessly provocative or harming American businesses beyond what is necessary to keep America safe and prosperous. The focus should be on quality of legislation rather than quantity of bills.
The top priority should be ensuring America’s own house is in order. Beijing not only believes the U.S. is in decline; it’s counting on it. Only if the U.S. ceases to become the leading global power can China hope to dominate the world.
Unfortunately, our reckless public spending, the hollowing out of our military, and the government’s prioritization of issues like climate change and woke gender ideologies over core national security interests give Beijing reason for optimism. America must curb its addiction to wasting taxpayer dollars on an ever-growing list of expenditures that do little to enhance national security or the well-being of citizens. Congress wields the power of the purse and will be crucial in bringing back a sense of fiscal responsibility.
Part of this reprioritization of expenditures must be to modernize and reinforce America’s military without delay. China is rapidly modernizing its military and views the U.S. as its most likely adversary. Yet, our military is no longer structured for a protracted conflict with such a capable rival. China now has a larger navy than the U.S., not to mention being on the cutting edge of some next-generation weapons technologies, such as hypersonic missiles. Congress must put the pieces in place to ensure China never eclipses America as the world’s preeminent military power.
At the same time, Congress will have to develop legislation to ensure that American firms stop enabling China’s technological development and military modernization. To be clear, U.S.-China technology competition is not purely an economic issue; it is primarily a national security imperative and must be treated as such. The government’s current haphazard whack-a-mole approach is wholly insufficient. While a full decoupling of the U.S. and Chinese economies is likely infeasible, greater restrictions on sensitive industries, such as artificial intelligence and high-end semiconductors, are long overdue.
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The same goes for ending reliance on Chinese supply chains for goods critical to Americans’ livelihoods, such as microchips and pharmaceuticals. The disruptions caused by China’s lockdowns during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic show how damaging this reliance can be when key supply chain nodes are taken offline. We cannot afford to let a strategic rival like Beijing possess such powerful leverage over the U.S.
Developing and implementing solutions to these challenges will be difficult. The necessary changes to priorities and expenditures will face a backlash from affected parties, particularly U.S. businesses seeking profits in China. While there is probably no way to completely avoid the short-term pain they will feel — or the price spikes that might result from targeted decoupling — the right legislation will help soften the blow by providing assistance and giving companies time to gradually relocate supply chains, which cannot be moved overnight.
Congress will have to develop legislation to ensure that American firms stop enabling China’s technological development and military modernization.
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This process must begin immediately, though. Time is running out.
China is the greatest external threat facing America in the 21st century. How well lawmakers address this challenge will go a long way toward determining whether future historians rate the next Congress as a success or a failure. To be successful, they will have to hit the ground running on day one.