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Meeks Remarks at Brookings Event on China

Washington, DC – Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, delivered the following remarks at Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy event on Global China:

“My sincere thanks to Brookings for hosting me today for the launch of this timely new book – ‘Global China: Assessing China’s Growing Role in the World.’

“Taking a look at the book’s table of contents, my first thought was that America is in good hands.

“That is in part because the far-ranging analysis included in this volume reveals that we are awake to the China challenge. But what I was particularly struck by was the diversity of views and people that contributed to this volume, some of whom, I understand, are now a part of the Biden Administration. That diversity in our marketplace of ideas, in our communities, and in the United States government is something China cannot match. That is a strength we must not relinquish.

“This book lays out the challenge ahead of us – a globally oriented China that wants to change the rules of the international order and alter the existing economic, governance, and security systems around the world in ways that undermine U.S. interests, and those of our close allies. Our collective task is to navigate this grave new reality.

“Yes, the China challenge is considerable. Your volume surveys China’s growing military, economic and technological heft. We are locked in a strategic competition across a spectrum of issues across the world. And relations between our two countries have not been this dire in decades. We have a difficult road ahead of us, but in this competition, my bet is on America.

“We need to be clear that today’s competition is different than what we faced with the Soviet Union, yet many in Washington are eager to bring out the same toolkit America used during the Cold War. We are not here to contain China and we have no interest in keeping prosperity from 1.4 billion people. Remember, the United States and the international community facilitated China’s economic rise by welcoming it into the international trading system and investing in its economy.

“Our competition is with the government of the People’s Republic of China, which has chosen regression instead of reform. Over the past eight years, Xi Jinping has taken that problematic trajectory and supercharged it.

“Under Xi, we have seen the PRC tighten its grip domestically and throw its weight around internationally. These two channels are linked: Enhance party control domestically by cracking down on economic and political freedom on the one hand, and enhance PRC influence and dominance internationally on the other. They then explicitly connect the party with China’s rejuvenation. We must reject Xi’s narrative that the CCP is China. China isn’t the problem; the Xi administration is.

“As General Secretary, Chairman, and President, Xi Jinping may as well be the judge, jury and executioner in China today. And he is likely to be at the helm for some time. This gives China a great deal of continuity in how it advances its global ambitions.

“Nevertheless, we need to understand that China isn’t as invincible as some make it out to be. Xi’s consolidation of power doesn’t mean he faces no challenges. In fact, there are many.

“Xi Jinping has stated his desire to elude the middle-income trap, but COVID-19 has delayed that goal. Even before the pandemic, the Chinese economy was experiencing declines in its growth rates and productivity rate. In the face of an aging population and ethnic divisions, the PRC still has to deliver for its people economically. And it will need to do so with an increasingly top-down governance system and a shrinking inner circle around Xi in Beijing.

“Then, of course, we have the growing pushback internationally against the PRC’s foreign policy, and not just from the United States, and not just because of Covid, but because of a long litany of China’s belligerence.

“Over the past year, the PRC has demonstrated to the world the dangers it poses. As a result of the desecration of Hong Kong’s autonomy, the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, the violence at the Indian border, the maritime bullying on the Scarborough Shoal, and the economic coercion around the world, there is growing alarm about China on the world stage. In 2018, even before some of China’s most glaring policy decisions and despite the counterproductive policies of the last administration, Pew found that most countries preferred the United States as the world’s leading power. And according to Morning Consult Political Intelligence, there has been a sizable improvement to the American brand since the inauguration of Joe Biden as President. Globally America remains far more popular.

“But in my conversations with our allies and partners, I have also heard worries that American institutions and our politics are not up to the task. After the tenure of the previous administration and the insurrection in Washington on January 6, there is concern that a future administration could undo the commitments made by this one.

“That is why Congress must act to set a longer-term course. Congress must ensure that we remain steadfast in our focus to renew American institutions and competitiveness at home and American engagement and leadership abroad.

“You have seen that in the passage this month of the United States Innovation and Competition Act in the Senate, comprehensive legislation to tackle the China challenge. And you see it in the House, where multiple committees are considering and moving legislation on China, as I plan to do with the EAGLE Act in the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I believe America will be best positioned to compete with China if it leads and engages the world again. The Eagle Act returns America to the world stage.

“I sincerely believe that the United States fell behind, not by supporting China’s rise, but by becoming complacent and shortsighted about bolstering the international order and our alliance system. The last administration forgot that if we don’t lead the world, someone else will take on the mantle. The PRC in many ways saw a vacuum and filled it.

“America will come out ahead, as long as we lead with confidence and leverage our strengths.

“The first of these are our alliances and partnerships. Our system of alliances is a superpower that China simply does not have. We are not alone in our competition with China.

“We need to be creative about how we leverage this constellation of relations. Bilaterally, multilaterally and through groupings like the Quad. The Quad’s cooperation on vaccine diplomacy is the kind of activity we need to see more of – groupings of like-minded nations acting collectively for the global good.

“That is why the Eagle Act calls for greater funding for vaccine diplomacy and to boost cooperation with the Quad. It also bolsters our diplomacy through an increase in Department of State personnel and resources devoted to the Indo-Pacific.

“We need to present a positive vision for the international system based on the rule of law. The Eagle Act shines a light on countries historically overlooked by American foreign policy, such as the Pacific Island states, states in the Caribbean and in Africa. These nations are often at the frontline of international and transnational threats and are especially vulnerable to China’s influence because of the lack of international standards.

“America also needs to lead in international organizations again. This is true both at the UN, where China has made a huge push for influence, as well as in regional organizations around the world. America used to be the driver of economic integration and standards in the Indo-Pacific. Now, being on the outside of CPTPP and RCEP, it is barely a part of the conversation.

“The Eagle Act calls on the United States to upgrade its economic diplomacy and leadership in the Indo-Pacific, by looking at sectoral trade agreements and embracing a leadership role at organizations like APEC where it is a member.

“And America must demonstrate that it will lead on climate change, and hold China accountable when it comes to this most pressing challenge facing the world. The Eagle Act does this by making climate a critical component of our diplomacy and authorizes the Biden Administration to provide supplemental foreign assistance for clean energy, reduce the negative impacts of black carbon, support the Green Climate Fund, and promote responsible alternatives to the Belt and Road Initiative.

“The Eagle Act also ensures that the United States walks the talk when it comes to human rights and our values. It imposes concrete costs on the PRC for its use of Uyghur forced labor and designates survivors as Priority 2 refugees of special humanitarian concern. It authorizes appropriations for the promotion of democracy in Hong Kong and provides temporary protected and refugee status for qualifying Hong Kongers.

“Last but not least, as Ryan Hass has written in this book, we need to find an “equilibrium to the relationship,” to allow for coexistence in the midst of strenuous competition. To do that we need to decelerate the downward spiral in the relationship. We need to find discreet issues where we can cooperate and reduce mistrust.

“And we need to use diplomacy to prevent an avoidable war with China. We have just gone through two of the longest wars in American history, and while the American people may be waking up to the idea of great power competition, we all aspire to avoid a great power war. Therefore, we must keep open lines of communication and dialogue and strengthen mechanisms to avoid and manage crises and reduce the risk of accidents that can escalate into conflict.

“Of course, much of this will depend on China itself. The easiest way to avoid confrontation will be if the PRC changes course. Whether it is the safety of our good friend Taiwan, the plight of Uyghurs, or the maritime and border claims of our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, China must adhere to its commitments and to international rules and law if it wants a productive relationship with the United States and the world.

“In the meantime, America’s task is to lead again. I have said it before and I say it again. America first is America alone. We must be America forward.”

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