- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2023

At the top of this Congress, it seemed likely that one of the areas in which there would be bipartisan coherence and enthusiasm is the threat posed by communist China and what we can and should do, as a nation, to counter that threat. More than 175 House Democrats joined all the Republicans in creating a select committee to address China, and there was a general alignment even on rhetoric.

Unfortunately, the limitations of Congress have started to become obvious.

Take the case of TikTok, for example. It is obvious that TikTok, which is without a doubt the most successful psychological operation directed at an adversary in the history of the world, should be banned. India has already banned it, and somehow it has survived.

The United States Congress? Well, in early March, a handful of senators introduced legislation giving the executive branch the ability to create a “rules-based process” to eventually think about considering moving toward banning things like TikTok. It’s no doubt an excellent start, and 10 years ago, it would have been welcome. But this moment requires considerably more urgency, energy and seriousness of purpose.

The House side doesn’t seem to be getting out of the gate with any more alacrity or direction. At the end of February, the House Financial Services Committee, run by North Carolina Republican Patrick McHenry from the banking town of Charlotte, managed to mark up and forward about a dozen bills to the entire House.

Inexplicably, one of the ones left behind was Republican Andy Barr’s legislation (H.R. 760), which would, in the congressman’s words,  “expand on the Trump-era executive order that prohibited investment in publicly traded securities of Chinese military companies listed on U.S. exchanges that pose a threat to national security. The Biden administration … expanded [the] list of entities to include surveillance companies. …

“While the Biden and Trump EOs prohibited investment in public securities in these companies (i.e., equity investments), the Barr bill would direct the president to actively sanction these entities. This will stop foreign capital from flowing to entities that pose a risk to national security.”

In short, the legislation would expand the number of Chinese companies prohibited from participating in U.S. capital markets.

Eventually, we are going to need to prevent all Chinese companies from accessing American capital, but Rep. Barr’s legislation is a good start. Apparently, though, we are not even going to have that.

It is unclear why legislation like this — by far the strongest bill regarding China and one that would have advanced American efforts to address the threat from China — wasn’t taken up and considered by the committee during its markup in late February.

The problem, in this instance, is probably not the Democrats. Despite her other flaws, ranking member Maxine Waters of California has been a sturdy adversary of communist China. As far back as 2008, she led an effort calling on then-President George W. Bush to avoid the Olympics held that year in Beijing because of the genocidal communist regime.

At the hearing that preceded the markup, the Democrats’ witness was Peter Harrell, who recently left the White House after a stint on the National Security Council and National Economic Council. Mr. Harrell supports creating a regime review for outgoing investment, which is part of the effort to reduce the involvement of American capital markets in Chinese companies.

So the problem is probably not the current administration, either.

The remaining possibility this legislation, in particular, has not advanced — and the effort more generally has not moved along more quickly — is because some significant portion of Republicans are in no particular hurry to address the China problem.

Let’s hope that is not the case.

While you’re thinking about that, it is worth noting that the Financial Times has reported that a sizable number of Chinese companies and individuals were depositors in Silicon Valley Bank and that “the collapsed institution served as a key funding bridge for groups operating between China and the U.S.” How long will it take for Congress to ask questions about whether American taxpayer cash will be shipped to companies and individuals in China?

If the immediate past is any guide, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.

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