Mistake: Congress Caved to China in its Latest Defense Bill

B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber USAF

Mistake: Congress Caved to China in its Latest Defense Bill

China couldn’t have asked for a better outcome in this year’s NDAA, but the American people should demand one. Congress should fix this —quickly.

Congress’s latest defense bill represents an enormous failure to take the threat of China seriously—and it’s primarily the fault of certain Wall Street-friendly Republicans who were allowed to hijack the process.

Not long ago, House Republicans could have credibly argued that they were Capitol Hill’s toughest China hawks. Despite that track record, lame-duck Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and a few cronies were allowed to strip out virtually all of the important China-related national security provisions from this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

This outcome only benefits the special interests who want to keep making money in China. And it comes with severe national security consequences for the American people.

Most concerningly, McHenry removed a bipartisan Senate amendment that would require disclosure for some U.S. investments into military technologies in China. The broadly supported amendment passed with ninety-one votes, and a similar effort in the House has drawn high-level bipartisan cosponsors, indicating a similar level of support. The top China national security experts from both parties went to bat for the provision, as did prominent conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action for America.

But while Speaker Mike Johnson could have gone over McHenry’s head to protect this provision, the latter’s fringe pro-China demands prevailed. It was a pyrrhic victory. President Biden’s weak executive order on outbound investments into China will— eventually —partially reduce the amount of U.S. pensions and investments being used to fund our own destruction. And McHenry, who announced his retirement from Congress the same month he killed bipartisan China legislation, will be remembered for helping Wall Street hide its financing of Chinese warships and fighter jets. However, he succeeded in squandering Congress’s best shot to address these dangerous investments in China for at least another year.

Shockingly, McHenry was also allowed to remove sanctions on China for fentanyl trafficking, as well as a measure to enhance scrutiny over China’s purchases of American agricultural land. He wasn’t alone in his malfeasance. Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman and Democrat Gary Peters inexplicably blocked a House measure that would stop taxpayer dollars from being used for genetic testing equipment from BGI, a company that shares customers’ genomic data with the Chinese military.

The NDAA also reflects broader failures in the Indo-Pacific, such as the missed opportunity to complete the Compacts of Free Association with Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia. These critical pacts grant the United States a military monopoly over a large swath of the Pacific, and our armed forces have long relied on these privileges as part of our regional strategy. Heading into the new year with the Compacts expired, and no resolution in sight will only help China’s effort to supplant the United States and shift the military balance across the Pacific in the CCP’s favor.

Taiwan Air Force F-16

Some useful provisions for deterring China did make it into the NDAA, however. It authorizes six multi-year procurement authorities for six munitions critical to any fight in the Pacific, a significant change that could speed up production and drive down costs. This is important because the United States faces a munitions supply crisis as it confronts multiple security threats in different military theaters. The bill also adds Taiwan to a list of countries eligible for expedited munitions sales, authorizes the San Antonio-class amphibious ship requested by the Marine Corps, and includes essential planning and funding for the defense of Guam and Hawaii, along with coalition-building in the Indo-Pacific.

House Republicans also succeeded in establishing the sea-launched cruise missile nuclear program (SLCM-N) as a program of record, over the objections of the Biden administration. Despite the administration’s protests and the political appointees in the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), SLCM-N is critical to establishing an effective deterrent against China’s ever-expanding nuclear arsenal.

China's New Aircraft Carrier

These overdue incremental achievements are welcome, but make no mistake: the Fiscal Year 2024 Defense Budget is a gift to Xi Jinping. The NDAA is always one of Congress’s most significant opportunities for national security action. To their credit, both the House and Senate came to the table with proposals to address urgent threats from China. But almost none of them survived the closed-door negotiations, and it is shameful that Congress couldn’t even agree that we should scrutinize— much less prohibit —the financing of Chinese weapons that will be aimed at U.S. soldiers.                                                                                                                         

Time is short. This year, China’s military aggression toward Taiwan has increased to unprecedented levels. Almost immediately after President Biden’s concessionary summit with Xi Jinping, aggressive Chinese actions in the South China Sea nearly brought it to the brink of armed conflict with the Philippines—a U.S. treaty ally.

F-22 Raptor

China couldn’t have asked for a better outcome in this year’s NDAA, but the American people should demand one. Congress should fix this —quickly.

About the Authors 

Bryan Burack is a Senior Policy Advisor for China and the Indo-Pacific in the Heritage Foundations Asian Studies Center. Wilson Beaver is a Senior Policy Analyst for Defense Budgeting at Heritages Center for Defense Policy.

All images are Creative Commons.