- Beijing expressed last minute dissatisfaction Thursday as the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act made it to the President Trump.
- The bill "shines a spotlight" on certain Chinese activities deemed unacceptable by US lawmakers, specifically China's militarization of the South China Sea, efforts to influence public discourse, and attempts to invest in and acquire assets deemed essential to US national security.
- China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs insists that the US "must not let this bill become law."
Beijing pushed back Thursday after Congress passed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), insisting that this bill which aims to curb malign Chinese activities must not become law.
Noting that the Chinese government has made its position known multiple times, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said, "We urge the US to discard its outdated cold-war and zero-sum mentality."
The US "must not let this bill containing negative Chinese-related content become law," he added, stressing that the US risks "undermining China-US relations and cooperation."
Consistent with the 2018 National Defense Strategy's focus on "great power competition" and the growing realization among lawmakers, military leaders, and intelligence officials that China represents one of the greatest challenges to US national interests, the NDAA is increasingly tough on China.
The $716 billion defense bill passed the Senate Wednesday in an 87-to-10 vote. Having already been approved by the House of Representatives, the NDAA has been sent to the president for signing.
The defense bill has China rattled because it "shines a spotlight" on a lot of Chinese activities that China would definitely prefer to not have pulled out of the shadows, Greg Poling, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider.
"The NDAA focuses on a new fixture of our foreign policy — our rivalry with China," Poling explained, adding that there are several sections dedicated to "naming and shaming" Beijing.
With regard to the hotly-contested South China Sea, the NDAA requires the Department of Defense to provide reports on new Chinese installations and weapons deployments, highlighting Chinese militarization of the disputed waterway and undermining Beijing's narrative.
Furthermore, the NDAA reinforces the Pentagon's ban on Chinese participation in the multilateral Rim of the Pacific maritime exercises held every year. For the ban to be lifted, China must not only halt all land reclamation activities (it already has for the most part), but it must also remove weapons systems from its outposts in the South China Sea. This provision essentially equates to a permanent ban.
In recent months, China has deployed jamming technology, surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, and even heavy bombers to Chinese outposts in the region. In response, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis accused China of "intimidation and coercion" in the South China Sea.
Rachael Burton, the deputy director at the Virginia-based Project 2049 Institute, told The Wall Street Journal that the provisions of the NDAA focused on the South China Sea are a "a signal to our allies and partners in the region — particularly Australia, Japan and Taiwan — that China's activities in the South China Sea are not accepted as normal."
The NDAA also includes strong language on Chinese attempts to influence public discourse, specifically China's efforts to influence "media, cultural institutions, business, and academic and policy communities." For instance, the NDAA limits Department of Defense funding for Chinese language programs at US universities that host Confucius Institutes, which have come under increased scrutiny as potential player in the Chinese government's broader influence campaign.
In a potential blow to Chinese economic activities, the bill also aims to strengthen the Committee on Foreign investment in the US (CFIUS), which monitors Chinese investment in the US and warns of possible threats to US national interests. There is also an increased emphasis on countering Chinese espionage, a longstanding threat.
China is "trying to position itself as the sole dominant superpower. They're trying to replace the United States in that role," FBI Director Christopher Wray said recently at the Aspen Security Forum, "I think China, from a counterintelligence perspective, represents in many ways the broadest, most challenging, most significant threat we face as a country."