On Wednesday, the United States House Armed Services Committee unanimously approved this year’s US$740.5 billion defense policy bill.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was finalized after a 14-hour deliberation with amendments on contentious issues including several provisions that seem to target China, challenging them in areas such as technology, scientific research and security.
“Is there anybody in this room that does not believe that China is an adversary of the United States, has every plan possible to become a world power at our detriment?” asked Representative Paul Mitchell, a Republican from Michigan. “Is there anybody that doesn’t believe that?”
The defense policy bill, which consists of hundreds of pages of details outlining the nation’s military policy, included a program that would require an intelligence report on cooperation between Moscow and Beijing and another that would mandate a defense secretary report on the Chinese telecoms company Huawei’s 5G systems.
However, arguably the most targeted provision in the bill is the Indo-Pacific Reassurance Initiative – a US$3.6 billion fund that would seek to deter China’s forces as well as bolster US military alliances in the Indo-Pacific region.
Eric Sayers, a former Asia policy adviser on the Senate Armed Services Committee said that the strong support for this bill “reflects a growing concern within the House Democrat caucus about the shifting military balance in the region.”
Other US officials have also agreed with Sayers’ statement.
“I think Congress’s interest in China has been increasingly intense for several years,” said Algene Sajery, a former top Democratic staff aide to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and founder of Catalyst Global Strategies.
The NDAA “definitely reflects bipartisan consensus on foreign policy issues, such as how the US can counter China’s activities,” she added.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of US Senators led by Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bob Menendez, proposed the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act which is designed to offer faster asylum seeking visa privileges to Hong Kongers who participated in protests against Beijing’s legal changes.
“Hong Kongers are an incredibly well-educated population, with high-tech skills and a visceral understanding of the CCP’s true nature. Any nation would be lucky to have them,” said Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher, referring to China by the abbreviation of the Chinese Communist Party.
“As the CCP prepares to crush what remains of one country, two systems, the United States has not just an obligation, but an opportunity to contribute to a global airlift to save as many endangered Hong Kongers as possible.”
In the past, the US has usually accepted refugees at priority level one through the US embassy or referrals from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
This new bill stipulates that the Trump administration accepts victims of persecution from Hong Kong and their dependents as priority two refugees, allowing them to apply directly to the US Refugee Admissions Program, bypassing referral requirements and the president’s refugee cap.
Any of the seven million Hong Kong residents can qualify if they demonstrate a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of their peaceful expression of political opinion or peaceful participation in political activities or associations.”
Separately, the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, spearheaded by Senators Patrick Toomey and Chris Van Hollen, made its way to President Donald Trump’s desk on Thursday after it gained unanimous approval from both the House and Senate without debate or formal vote.
The legislation, upon revision following its initial proposal last week, would primarily penalize banks found to be doing business with Chinese officials involved in implementing Beijing’s national security law in the special administrative region (SAR).
“It’s not only an effort to shield freedom-loving Hong Kongers from this continuing escalation of aggression by the Chinese communists, but the bill is a larger signal to China,” said Republican Senator Toomey. “It’s a message that the United States and the free world are no longer willing to look past some of the worst behavior that’s been occurring. It’s a message that our patience has run out.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke out against China, calling their action an “affront on all nations” on Wednesday.
“Free Hong Kong was one of the world’s most stable, prosperous, and dynamic cities. Now it will be just another communist-run city, where its people will be subject to the party elite’s whims. It’s sad,” he added.
Chinese officials have since responded to the actions taken by the US, urging them to “grasp the situation, abide by international law … [and] stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs.”
“The US Congress obstinately pushes the relevant negative bill in relation to Hong Kong. China deplores and rejects that,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Thursday.
Zhao also singled out Pompeo’s remarks, labeling them as “lies and rumors [which] demonstrate nothing but ignorance and prejudice.”
“Some in the US, driven by vicious motives, have been doing everything they can to plot, enact and incite a so-called “beautiful sight”,” Zhao added, referring to previous remarks made by US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi about the Hong Kong protests.
“We’d rather they keep such sights to themselves.”
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