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House passes bipartisan bill targeting China

By Sarah May
|
March 30, 2023

In a move more in keeping with former President Donald Trump's hardline stance on China than with current President Joe Biden's more hesitant approach, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that would begin the process of stripping the nation of the “developing country” status it enjoys within some international organizations, as The Hill reports.

The measure passed the lower chamber by a unanimous 415-0 vote and is designed to end the preferential treatment the aforementioned designation regularly affords the People's Republic of China, despite the economic power the country wields across the globe.

Status change sought

As The Hill notes, the provisions of the “PRC Is Not A Developing Country Act” lay out several steps to be taken by the federal government to begin unwinding the favorable treatment China has long received due to its categorization as a developing nation.

First, the secretary of State would be instructed to “pursue” a change in China's designation from a country that is developing to one that is characterized by either an upper middle income, high income, or developed status for the purposes of international organizations in which both it and the U.S. are members.

The secretary of state would also be responsible for endeavoring “to ensure that the People's Republic of China does not receive preferential treatment or assistance within the organization as a result of it having the status of the developing country,” The Hill added.

Broadly speaking, the measure would solidify as U.S. policy the notion that China should not be labeled or treated as a developing country under the terms of any treaty or international compact to which America is a party, as Fox Business noted.

Rationale explained

The Act was introduced by Republican Rep. Young Kim (CA-40) and Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA-11), and the former offered remarks on the chamber floor explaining the rationale behind it.

“The PRC exploits their developing country status by applying for development assistance and loans from international organizations despite spending trillions on infrastructure projects in developing countries as part of their debt trap diplomacy scam, known as the Belt and Road Initiative,” Kim said, according to Fox Business.

Kim went on, adding, “In fact, PRC's withdrawal of loans takes away from actual developing countries and helps the PRC finance its Belt and Road program. We are long overdue to level the playing field.”

Democratic Rep. Susan Wild (PA-07) concurred, noting, “I support this bipartisan measure because it deepens both U.S. engagement in international treaties and organizations while trying to effectively counter the PRC's own self-interested actions in these forums.”

Countering “special and different treatment”

As Fox Business noted, organizations such as the World Trade Organization offer “special and different treatment” for countries designated as developing, and China has thus been able to access development loans, some of which are known to have been directed toward entities facilitating human rights abuses.

One such instance was raised in a hearing last week in which China's genocide against the Uyghur minorities within its borders was discussed, as the outlet further noted.

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom chair Nury Turkel declared, “The World Bank and IFC have been funding entities that are building those camps” by using funding they gave to “an entity called the XPCC, Xinjiang Production Construction Corps” that has already been the subject of American and European sanctions.

Notably, that same firm has been blamed for brutal forced labor practices, and its ability to access funding due to an inaccurate and undeserved designation by international organizations is something advocates and lawmakers have sought to end.

Tone shift afoot

Fox Business noted that the overwhelming bipartisan support for the measure is indicative of a building consensus that now is the time for the U.S. to adopt a more aggressive posture toward China, and that is not something the Biden administration has always seemed willing to do.

Earlier this month, Axios also noted the perceptible shift in tone with regard to China – spearheaded during the Trump administration – in reaction to a realization of the seriousness of the dangers the communist regime is believed to pose.

The changes in direction, Axios suggested, “have shown that Trump's hawkish proposals on China – initially dismissed as dangerous and impossible – have a way of becoming plausible, and even policy.”

Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) observed, “The American people have the habit of moving from indifference to outrage in very short order. And that's happened as it pertains to China,” and crediting the former president for much of that shift, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) declared, “Trump did shift the conversation.” Whether the Senate will act on this particular attempt to temper China's rise, however, remains unclear.