Top Ten Problems with The Strategic Competition Act of 2021

Published May 20, 2021

The “Strategic Competition Act,” introduced in the Senate last month, is an ill-conceived laundry list of anti-China provisions focused more on containing and weakening China than on improving the competitiveness of the United States. The bill would likely result in the racial profiling and persecution of Chinese Americans, as well as other Americans with personal, business or professional ties to China.

Although the measure does contain some positive provisions on Chinese human rights problems, it would be more effective for Congress to address those concerns through separate legislation. Including human rights language in a bill on competitiveness will make it appear, both to China and other nations, that Congress is seeking to weaponize human rights issues to win an economic and geopolitical contest and is unlikely to help human rights victims.

This week, the legislation’s sponsors will try to incorporate it, via amendments, into the Endless Frontier Act, a more constructive bill that focuses on improving U.S. competitiveness by reinvesting in U.S. science and technology.

Below are the top ten problems with the Strategic Competition Act.

1. It enables racial profiling of Chinese Americans.

The bill would enact a U.S. policy “to enable the people of the United States, including the private sector, civil society, universities and other academic institutions, State and local legislators, and other relevant actors to identify and remain vigilant to the risks posed by undue influence of the CCP in the United States…[and] to implement measures to mitigate the risks.”

This policy would enable the U.S. government to conduct witch hunts for potential “undue” Chinese influence in almost every aspect of American life, creating a chilling effect on normal economic, social and cultural interactions between ordinary Chinese and Americans. Any act of engagement with any Chinese individual risks not only federal scrutiny, but scrutiny by other anti-Chinese individuals or organizations “enabled” by this law. This will exacerbate the already troublesome racial profiling of Chinese Americans, the community most likely to be engaged in such interactions.

2. It empowers malicious government behavior.

The bill would require “the entire executive branch” to engage in anti-Chinese purges by directing the head of every federal department and agency to designate an undersecretary focused on ferreting out imagined Chinese influence. This provision could create dozens of new commissars focused on investigating the behavior of U.S. citizens, businesses, educational institutions, and civic groups, especially Chinese Americans.

3. It meddles in foreign domestic politics.

The bill defines Chinese participation in international infrastructure projects as a threat to the United States. This will force our allies and partners to choose between the United States and China for infrastructure development on national security grounds and will encourage unwelcome and potentially illegal U.S. intervention in the domestic politics of foreign nations.

4. It wastes $1.2 billion of the State Department’s already limited resources.

The bill would appropriate $300 million in each of the next four fiscal years to a “Countering Chinese Influence Fund” and create two staff positions at the State Department and Agency for International Development to investigate and possibly sanction individuals, businesses, civic groups, educational institutions, and governments in foreign countries that have economic, social, cultural or family ties to China. This kind of aggressive U.S. policing of foreign ties to China will inevitably damage U.S. relationships abroad instead of strengthening them.

5. It perpetuates failed and inhumane policies towards North Korea.

The bill would mandate the continuation of a policy of maximum economic pressure on North Korea that has failed to lead to successful negotiations on arms control and disarmament agreements. This policy has had an oppressive humanitarian impact on the people of North Korea and no impact at all on their leaders, whose behavior is beyond the North Korean people’s control.

6. It inserts Congress into diplomatic negotiations.

The bill would require the State Department to notify Congress within five days of an approved negotiation or conclusion of an international agreement or qualifying non-binding agreement. This empowers Congress to intervene in the executive branch’s ability to negotiate with foreign governments. For instance, the resumption of the Iran nuclear deal could be perceived as a “new agreement” by Congress and possibly trigger the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which gives Congress the right to review any nuclear agreement reached with Iran.

7. It makes unsubstantiated claims about China’s nuclear capabilities.

The bill includes highly controversial claims about China’s nuclear weapons capabilities that exaggerate the threat posed by China’s nuclear arsenal with the intent of undermining faith in the efficacy of arms control and justifying unnecessary new spending on U.S. nuclear weapons.

8. It undermines productive discussions with China on space security.

The Act welcomes a strategy to negotiate norms for outer space with China, but also calls on the U.S. and allies to reject Chinese proposals. A priori rejection of Chinese proposals that are in the U.S. interest would make productive international negotiations on rules of the road for outer space impossible.

9. It contains confusing language on extended deterrence.

As written, the bill would require that “United States declaratory policy reflects the requirements of extended deterrence.” Extended deterrence can be interpreted as using U.S. nuclear capabilities to deter a nuclear attack on allies or to deter a conventional attack on allies. Conflating these two requirements could be interpreted as requiring the president to prepare to start a nuclear war if allies feel threatened by an adversary's conventional capabilities.

10. It poisons prospects for nuclear arms control negotiations with China.

Preventing future Chinese nuclear testing and renewed Chinese production of weapons-useable fissile material is the most effective way to cap the size and capability of China’s nuclear arsenal. The language in the Senate bill makes any conversation with China on those two subjects contingent on three-way talks involving Russia that China has already rejected. It is a poison pill intended to prevent talks on key arms control issues that are vital to the security of the United States.