House competition bill packed with progressive policy goals

House Republicans have been scathing about what they’ve termed Democrats’ “Christmas tree” of a bill

As amended with language from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a House Democratic bill would order a U.S. intelligence community assessment of efforts by the United Arab Emirates to prevent the transfer of U.S. technology to China. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo/Pool)
As amended with language from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a House Democratic bill would order a U.S. intelligence community assessment of efforts by the United Arab Emirates to prevent the transfer of U.S. technology to China. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo/Pool)
Posted February 14, 2022 at 6:00am

A host of progressive foreign policy provisions on issues like scrutinizing advanced weapon sales to the United Arab Emirates and welcoming more asylum-seekers fleeing Beijing’s oppression were tucked into House Democrats' bill aimed at bolstering competition with China.

It remains unclear just how many of these liberal foreign policy provisions on such wide-ranging topics — including Afghanistan-related sanctions, combating anti-Asian racism, improving COVID-19 vaccine access in developing countries and boosting respect for indigenous peoples — might be included in any compromise measure that a House-Senate conference committee soon will begin working on. 

House Republicans have been scathing about what they’ve termed Democrats’ “Christmas tree” of a bill, which they argue mostly opted for platitudes in its international affairs-focused title. Republicans wanted more provisions like what they consider the harder-nosed policies they were unable to secure during floor work on the bill, such as new export controls on advanced technology to China.

“There’s a lot of work to do to move this bill to the president’s desk,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer acknowledged last week. The coming conference negotiations must reconcile the House-passed measure with the Senate’s China policy bill, which was passed last year with 18 Republicans voting in favor.

But only one House Republican, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voted for the House's response bill, setting up a potentially prickly conference.

Democratic amendments

The House bill includes several amendments adopted on the floor that address the rising tide of anti-Asian racism in the United States, as well as lawmakers’ worries that the growing long-term strategic competition with Beijing could further inflame such prejudices.

“The president shall ensure that the provisions of this act which are aimed at countering the influence of the Chinese Communist Party are implemented in a manner that does not result in discrimination against people of Asian descent,” reads an adopted amendment from Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif.

Another adopted amendment from Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., offers a sense of the Congress opposing recent “dangerous” Justice Department counter-economic espionage investigations into Chinese-American and Chinese scientists working in the United States that appeared to be mainly motivated by “Asian ancestry or having ties to China.”

“I am grateful that the House adopted my amendment on the importance of opposing the targeting of Chinese researchers and scientists based on their race, something we’ve seen ruin numerous careers and lives already,” Chu, who leads the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement.

Democrats also included language offered by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., that condemns the spread of anti-Asian hate speech and hate crimes since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic while urging the U.S. and other foreign governments to “combat the spread of anti-Asian racism and discrimination.”

Additionally, the legislation includes a provision from Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., that would prohibit any of the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual new security assistance for Indo-Pacific countries authorized by the underlying bill from going to foreign military or law enforcement units found to have engaged in any of a long list of human rights violations, such as torture or prolonged detention without charges.

Another adopted amendment from Jacobs would repeal a congressionally imposed cap on how much money the United States can annually contribute to its assessed U.N. peacekeeping dues. During the Trump administration, the United States accumulated over $1 billion in arrears from unpaid dues for U.N. peacekeeping efforts.  

“Our failure to pay our full UN peacekeeping dues has been a problem for decades — and frankly it’s been counterproductive,” Jacobs said in a statement. “UN Peacekeeping missions make the world safer and are more cost effective than U.S. military operations.”  

As amended with language from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., the bill would order a U.S. intelligence community assessment of efforts by the United Arab Emirates to prevent the transfer of U.S. technology to China. In late 2020, the Trump administration approved a deal to export the prized — if long-delayed and drastically over budget — F-35 fighter jet to Abu Dhabi.

Democrats oppose the F-35 sale for several reasons, including worries over the UAE’s deepening commercial and security ties with China. Democrats are concerned that those links could create more openings and incentives for the illicit proliferation of Lightning II-related technology into the hands of the Chinese military.

Democrats also included in the bill provisions that, while not ordering the lifting of sanctions on the Taliban, could be used to lay the groundwork for a potential future legislative effort to ease some economic restrictions. Since the hard-line Taliban seized control of Afghanistan late last summer, the international commerce on which the import-reliant country relies has come to a screeching halt. Foreign businesses have stayed away over fears of stepping afoul of U.S. sanctions on the Taliban.

As amended, the legislation would direct the Treasury Department to study the impacts of U.S. and international sanctions on Afghanistan’s environment and public health sectors, as well as the possibility of establishing foreign trade zones in Afghanistan within the current sanctions regime.

Bipartisan provisions

While the above provisions may face a difficult road ahead in conference deliberations because of a collective lack of Republican support, other foreign policy measures have a better chance of making it through in some form.

They include language pushed by Reps. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., and Kinzinger that would provide 18 months of temporary protected status from deportation and refugee status to qualifying Hong Kong residents, as well as granting special immigration admission status for up to 5,000 highly skilled residents from the Chinese territory annually for the next five years.

Another provision would give Priority 2 refugee status to Uyghurs and other Chinese nationals who have fled China’s Xinjiang region. An adopted amendment from Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., would further exempt from the annual cap on refugee admissions Chinese nationals from Xinjiang who have been granted refugee status.

One of the bill’s more incendiary provisions would direct the State Department to negotiate with Taiwanese officials over the renaming of the de facto Taiwanese embassy in Washington, which is currently called the Taipei Economic and Culture Representative Office. Lawmakers want to see the office renamed the “Taiwan Representative Office in the United States.”

Such wording is sure to infuriate Beijing, which in recent months has mounted an unprecedented campaign to economically isolate Lithuania as punishment for the small Baltic nation’s decision to similarly allow the renaming of the Taiwanese diplomatic office in its capital.