January 27, 2022

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U.S. Policy Toward China: Deputy Secretary Biegun’s Remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

29 min read

Stephen Biegun, Deputy Secretary of State

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

As Prepared

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Menendez, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. This is an important moment in the U.S.-China relationship, and the Secretary and I appreciate the serious focus that your Committee is taking to shape a bipartisan approach to this vital policy matter. We recognize that to be successful, U.S. policy towards the PRC must be grounded in consensus across our governing institutions and society. Mr. Chairman, for this reason, we welcome the legislation you introduced today — designed to frame the U.S. strategic approach to the PRC. This, along with other recent legislation passed by Congress, is crucial to address the challenges we face.

Across multiple administrations the United States has supported China’s entry into the rules-based international order in hopes that China would be a partner in upholding international law, norms, and institutions and that the United States and China could develop a friendly relationship with reciprocal benefit. Over more than three decades, U.S. policies towards the PRC have advanced that goal through a massive outpouring of international assistance and lending, foreign investment, facilitation of Chinese membership in global institutions, and the education of millions of China’s brightest scholars at our best schools.

Where this Administration diverges from previous Administrations is in the will to face the uncomfortable truth in the U.S.-China relationship that the policies of the past three decades have simply not produced the outcome for which so many had hoped, and that the United States must and take decisive action to counter the PRC. As stated in the 2017 National Security Strategy, despite the huge dividends to the PRC in terms of prosperity, trade, and global influence that United States support and engagement has delivered, Beijing has instead chosen to take increasingly hardline and aggressive actions, both at home and abroad; and China has emerged as a strategic competitor to the United States, and to the rules-based global order.

We find the U.S.-China relationship today weighed down by a growing number of disputes, including commercial espionage and intellectual property theft from American companies; unequal treatment of our diplomats, businesses, NGOs, and journalists by Chinese authorities; and abuse of the United States’ academic freedom and welcoming posture toward international students to steal sensitive technology and research from our universities in order to advance the PRC’s military. It is these factors which led the President to direct a number of actions in response, including yesterday’s notification to the PRC that we have withdrawn our consent for the PRC to operate its consulate in Houston, Texas.

There is also growing alarm around the world about the dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy, liberty, and democratic institutions; the arbitrary mass detentions and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang; efforts to eliminate Tibetan identity; military pressure against Taiwan; and the assertion of unfounded maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Other areas of concern include China’s increasingly assertive use against partners and allies of military and economic coercion and state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, including, among others, India, Australia, Canada, the UK, ASEAN Members, the European Union, and several other European countries.

At the Department of State, both Secretary Pompeo and I are involved day-to-day in the full range of policy matters related to the PRC, an issue that touches upon every dimension of the Department of State’s work. The Department has launched a number of diplomatic and economic initiatives described in my written testimony to uphold and defend our interests and those of our friends and allies in areas such as global infrastructure development, market access, and telecommunications security. Much of what we are doing would serve our global interests under any circumstances, but the unfortunate trends we see in China make our actions all the more urgent.

We have organized internally through the leadership of the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, along with the Directors of Policy Planning and our Global Engagement Center, to align internal policy making in virtually every single bureau and office in the Department. We are likewise organizing our diplomats to focus on competition with China around the world.

As part of a comprehensive approach, we are engaged with allies and partners in the G7, the G20, and NATO to highlight the threat that the PRC poses not just to U.S. interests but also to the interests of our allies and partners. We are broadening partnerships across the Transatlantic, the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere.

Across the Indo-Pacific region, the United States is deepening relationships with the countries that share our values and interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific. Last September, we held the first ministerial-level meeting of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan, marking a new milestone in our diplomatic engagement in the region. We are enhancing our alliances with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand, which have helped sustain peace and security for generations, and we are furthering our engagement with ASEAN, an organization central to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our security assistance to South China Sea claimant states and our recent rejection of the PRC’s maritime claims helps partners protect their autonomy and maritime resources. We are working with the Mekong countries to ensure sustainable development and energy security, and we have doubled development assistance to our Pacific Island partners through the Pacific Pledge.

On the other side of the world, China has increasingly become a topic in transatlantic and FVEY discussions. The Secretary recently announced the United States accepted the EU’s proposal to create an U.S.-EU Dialogue on China to discuss the transatlantic community’s common concerns about the threat the PRC poses to our shared democratic values. Similarly, the PRC is a core component of our security dialogues with the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

In our own Hemisphere, the United States is working with its neighbors to reaffirm the region’s longstanding dedication to free societies and free markets. We are working on improving the investment climate for all types of infrastructure including energy, airports, ports, roads, telecom, and digital networks. In addition to USAID development and humanitarian assistance, we expect the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to deploy $12 billion in the Western Hemisphere toward this effort and we have made a priority promoting transparency and privacy in the digital economy.

Though the PRC has made extensive inroads across Africa over the past decade,encouragingly, some African governments have begun to monitor Chinese projects, require Chinese firms to hire more African laborers,and demand protection of Africa’s fragile ecosystems.Our diplomatic engagement on the continent will continue to highlight the pitfalls of opaque and unsustainable PRC lending.

In the Middle East we have successfully engaged partners to recognize the costs that come with certain commercial engagements with the PRC – especially telecommunications infrastructure.

And finally, we are working with allies and partners to prevent the PRC from undermining international organizations through unchecked influence.

Mr. Chairman, consistent with the priorities in your legislation, I should underscore that engagement between the United States and China remains of central importance in managing tensions and exploring areas of mutual interest where efforts might align. But we will only make a difference if our engagement produces real progress on the many issues that I have enumerated today.

Last month, I joined Secretary Pompeo in Hawaii to meet with our Chinese counterparts. In the two-day discussion the Secretary stressed that deeds, not words, were the pathway to achieve mutual respect and reciprocity between our two countries across commercial, security, diplomatic,and people-to-people interactions. He made clear our determination to push back against Beijing’s efforts to undermine democratic norms, challenge the sovereignty of our friends and allies, and engage in unfair trade practices, but at the same time, he also outlined areas where the United States and the PRC could cooperate to solve global challenges.

Among the issues that we could start with are strategic stability around nuclear capabilities and doctrine; coordinated efforts to identify the origins and spread of COVID-19; a denuclearized North Korea that ensures peace and stability on the Peninsula; peace building in Afghanistan; international narcotics production and trafficking; and, as evidenced by the Phase 1 trade deal agreed earlier this year, balanced and reciprocal economic policies. The United States welcomes people-to-people exchanges, including hosting of each other’s students, provided that they are exclusively for purposes of study.

We would also welcome members of Congress from both sides of the Capitol to not only work in partnership with the Executive Branch but to also extend your own engagement to better understand the aspirations of the Chinese people. Of course this includes meeting with your Chinese government counterparts, but it must also include reaching out to the many voices of China that are found outside China; those not free to be heard at home and therefore requiring our assistance to be heard.

Let me be clear: the United States supports the aspirations of those Chinese people who seek to live in peace, prosperity and freedom. Secretary Pompeo has met with pro-democracy leaders from Hong Kong, Chinese dissidents and survivors of repression in Xinjiang, and last month I was honored to present the International Women of Courage Award to the Mothers of Tiananmen. The bravery of the many Chinese people who seek to advance human rights and universal freedoms inspires all of us in our work.

Mr. Chairman, we are urgently taking the necessary steps to defend the United States. As we seek to correct the imbalance in our relations with China we must address today’s realities while at the same time leaving open tomorrow’s possibilities. With our friends and allies we are standing up for universal rights and the rules-based international system that have provided for the world’s collective peace, security, and prosperity for generations to the benefit of the United States, the Peoples Republic of China, and entire world.

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