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China Issues Spark Debate Over US Defense Spending Bill

The Biden administration and Republican lawmakers remain at odds about several China-related provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2024 that passed the House of Representatives on Friday in a near-party-line vote.

Section 214 of the act, which will likely face major revisions in the Democratic-led Senate, requires researchers to disclose personal information such as nationality when participating in research for U.S. defense programs, a move the White House says puts an unnecessary burden on university research programs.

While Section 214 does not name China, Republican Representative Jim Banks, who sponsored the section, called it a “tough on China” amendment” on his website.

The act also requires applicants to disclose their educational, professional and employment background as well as past and current affiliation and involvement with foreign governments and talent programs.

The armed services committees of the House and Senate of the U.S. Congress separately approved their versions of the 2024 NDAA in late June. The full House narrowly approved an amended version of the $886 billion must-pass defense policy bill in a 219-210 vote on Friday with just four Democrats voting in favor.

A different version of the bill is expected to emerge from the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats and will begin its debate next week. The two versions will have to be reconciled before the bill can be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The White House said Monday that the administration “strongly opposes” Section 214, “which would impose a significant increase in disclosure requirements for university research funded by” the Department of Defense (DoD) and could “deter the ability to attract the best and brightest foreign scientists from working with the Department.”

“Section 214 would make public detailed information on all Department research performers that could create an inadvertent national security risk,” said the statement from the White House.

The White House said in the statement that Section 214 “would provide insufficient means for the Secretary of State to provide input to ensure foreign assistance or engagement is carried out in a manner consistent with foreign policy priorities.”

Republican Representative Andy Barr told VOA Mandarin during a Wednesday interview that the lessons learned from the Confucius Institute, supported by China, have alerted the Congress to China’s influence on the U.S. academic and scientific research environment.

Barr said, “They’re [the Confucius Institute] less about cultural exchange, educational exchange and genuine effort to educate and more about propaganda and using the universities as a platform for espionage, academic and otherwise.

“So that has a national security dimension to it, and that’s why the NDAA is taking a look at that,” he added.

Republican Representative Carlos Gimenez told VOA Mandarin during a Wednesday interview, “For far too long we’ve been asleep at the wheel, and we’ve allowed some very unscrupulous practices to go unpunished. And so we need to rectify that.”

Most of the Confucius Institutes, a cultural organization with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, closed after being designated a foreign mission by the U.S. State Department. A foreign mission is an office that carries out diplomatic or similar work for a foreign government.

The White House also expressed concerns over Section 1316, which requires the Secretary of Defense to certify whether Chinese government officials assisted or were aware of the transportation of the precursors, or elements needed to manufacture the highly addictive drug fentanyl to Mexican drug cartels.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 7 called on dozens of countries to work together to combat synthetic drugs, but China — facing blame in Washington over an addiction epidemic — denounced the effort.

Todd Robinson, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told reporters in a teleconference on July 6, “We assess that the PRC needs to do more as a global partner to disrupt illicit synthetic drug supply chains.” He used the acronym for China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.

U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns told Politico in May the Chinese government is not contributing to the fentanyl crisis in the U.S., “but black-market Chinese firms are.”

He added, “We would like the government here in Beijing to use its power to shut down the flow of precursor chemicals from these black-market Chinese firms to the drug cartels’ [fentanyl] production sites.”

Source : VOANews