Romney Leads Senate Hearing on State Department Budget Request

Urges Administration to follow through on crafting grand China strategy before Congressionally-mandated deadline

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, along with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the Subcommittee’s Chair, today led a hearing to consider the State Department’s FY 2024 Budget Request for East Asia and the Pacific. The 2022 NDAA included legislation from Romney requiring the Administration to create a grand China strategy. During today’s hearing, he urged witnesses to follow through on creating a strategy that is more comprehensive than principles that have been publicly outlined by officials, as well as bipartisan and lasting in nature.

A full transcript of Romney’s opening statement and excerpts from witness questioning can be found below. Full video can be found here.

Opening Remarks:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good to be with you today and also Senator Schatz and Senator Ricketts. Appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak with our colleagues today and learn from them about our prospects in the Indo-Pacific and to address the budget requests that they’ve provided. I think there’s broad agreement that the critical foreign policy challenge that we face, and opportunity we have, arises from China’s emergence as a great power—a nation which is not playing by the rules.

And the fact that it’s not playing by the rules presents particular challenges for us and for the world. It’s essential, in my view, as we think about spending the money that Chairman Van Hollen has indicated, that we spend it according to a comprehensive strategy that we’ve developed, that focuses our resources on those things that we think will be most effective.

In the last Congress, Chairman Menendez and I actually passed legislation which would require the Administration to produce a comprehensive strategy to deal with China. During the Cold War, Presidents Ford and Eisenhower and Reagan directed similar undertakings as we confronted the Soviet Union. And I believe we should carry out the same type of strategic effort with regard to China.

But I’m concerned that the administration is sort of hoping this will go away or that a speech of grand principles will suffice. I very much support the principles that have been described by Secretary Blinken and Secretary Yellen. Both have given addresses with matters in this regard. But when I talk about a grand strategy, and as Senator Menendez does, we’re talking about something far more comprehensive than just principles.

So, I mean, just to tick off some of the things that are in China’s program, they have a talent program, as you know. They have a theft of intellectual property program. They have the Confucius Institute program. They have trade agreements that they’ve put in place that they think will promote their interests. They have massive investments in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean and other places.

They have a propaganda program. They have a spy program. They have a raw materials program to achieve monopolies in key raw materials. They send students into American universities with a plan for them to come back and provide technology that they’ve learned. And one of the most troubling aspects of their strategy is their effort to live by different trade rules than the rest of the nations live by, monopolizing certain industries, predatory pricing to achieve that monopoly, establishing pathways around the national trade rules.

So, we are very anxious to learn that the Administration has begun the process of completing a development of a comprehensive strategy. Part of our legislation called for outside voices, not just members of the Administration, but outside voices, members of Republican administrations in the past to make sure this is a strategy that has bipartisan support and lasts beyond one president, but also people in the foreign policy world that are focused on this area to get their input and to consider the widest range of options.

There are other issues that I’m not going to get a chance to talk about today, but I want to underscore again, my support for the comments that have been made by the chairman of this committee. I want to make sure that we don’t do anything that weakens our positions relative to China. I would note a comment which has been made by several people that basically every strategic and every funding decision we make should be considered through the lens of how it affects our strength relative to China, because it is the foreign policy challenge of our of our era.

And with that, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to the questions that we’ll hear from you and from our colleagues.

Questions for the Witness:

On developing a comprehensive China strategy:

Senator Romney: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, Chairman Menendez and I worked together on legislation calling for a comprehensive strategy to be developed with regards to China with deep granular and tactical aspects, as well as outside involvement.

Our legislation became law in the NDAA two years ago. Senator Risch and I wrote a letter to the President last November requesting an update on that progress. We have not received a response to that. By law, the Administration must submit the China comprehensive strategy 270 days after they submit the National Security Strategy. Given the fact that that was submitted October 12th, it means that the final strategy on China is due on July 9th.

So more than 200 days have now passed since the National Security Strategy was put in place. What progress has been made by the administration in developing that kind of comprehensive, tactically included grand strategy with regards to China? Mr. Kritenbrink?

Daniel J. Kritenbrink: Mr. Ranking Member, thank you very much for your question. And yes, sir, we’re very much aware of the letter from you and Ranking Member Risch as you outlined at the top, Senator, obviously, the United States has made very clear what our approach to China is. It was outlined in in the speech that Secretary Blinken gave last year. But I can assure you, Mr. Ranking Member, that the Administration will fulfill the requirement outlined in the NDAA.

We will share our comprehensive China strategy with China in the coming weeks. This administration obviously has regularly briefed Congress on matters related to China. We’ll continue to do so and we look forward to doing so and we appreciate your support on that and we will deliver that strategy. We expect to deliver on that strategy well ahead of the deadline that you have referenced.

Romney: Thank you. I would note that I would hope numerous aspects of that would be classified.

Kritenbrink: Yes, sir. 

Romney: And would only be available to a…

Kritenbrink: I believe, almost all of it. Yeah, sir.

Romney: Excellent. Are there outside people being involved in that effort?

Kritenbrink: Senator, I would say that obviously we’re aware of the the language in the NDAA regarding giving the president an option to establish this advisory board. I think it’s fair to say that we do regularly consult with outside experts and former practitioners on our approach to China. I don’t know that I could say that they’re formally involved in the the formation and the execution of our classified China strategy. But obviously we have benefited a great deal from outside expertise as we have crafted our strategy.

Romney: I would only underscore that I think the credibility and the permanence of that strategy would be enhanced by having the perspective of people from both parties and people outside the the governmental sphere. I would add, is there a point person that’s responsible for this or are you the one that’s leading this effort or who in the State Department is leading that effort, do you know?

Kritenbrink: On the strategy? 

Romney: Yes.

Kritenbrink:  As with many things, Mr. Ranking Member, this is a collaborative effort across the interagency. But I think it’s safe to say, and I would hope would be apparent, that the White House has the lead on crafting the government-wide U.S. China strategy. But certainly the State Department in my bureau.

Romney: Would that be Jake Sullivan?

Kritenbrink: Yes, sir. The National Security Adviser and his team.

On growing tensions with China concerning Taiwan:

Romney: All right. I just can’t resist elaborating on a point that was raised by the chairman of this committee, which is Taiwan. And and and I was of the view that it was unlikely that China would immediately invade Taiwan. There were some who thought that when Russia went into Ukraine, that China would immediately follow suit. I didn’t think that was a particularly wise thing to suggest for numerous reasons, but one being that China would learn that many times there are unintended consequences for that type of action.

And nations that have invaded a sovereign neighbor have often found that some unintended consequences have come back to hurt them very badly, as clearly Russia has found with regards to Ukraine. China invading Taiwan would potentially have those consequences, one of which relates not just to chips, but to the proprietary products that go into manufacturing various high tech products.

It is my understanding that Taiwan manufacturers literally hundreds of items beyond semiconductors that could be produced nowhere else, and that if those were to be disrupted, that China’s economy would be severely impacted. I would only encourage us to evaluate how many of those products there are, how much impact would be felt in this economy were they to be or there to be an interruption of some kind. But it is my hope and belief that the extraordinary proprietary capabilities that Taiwan has will serve as as perhaps one of the most effective deterrence to keep China from carrying out kinetic activity. And therefore, at least in my own view I’m sorry, I’m going on here, but in my own view, China is going to look for not just a military, if you will, takeover of Taiwan, but looking for a gradual economic and geopolitical take over, and that we should be focused not just on our military strengthening, but also on those geopolitical efforts that are going to be necessary to keep Taiwan’s backbone strong.

If you have any comment on that, either one of you, I’m happy to hear it, if the chairman will oblige.

Kritenbrink: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Yes, sir. Mr. Ranking Member, I would just say I think you’ve outlined clearly the case for why it is vitally important to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and why it is in no one’s interest, including the PRC’s, to take precipitous action that would lead to to conflict. There would be serious consequences for the entire world if such an event were to happen and I would say, Mr. Ranking Member, I would just add that we are focused on not just the maintenance of peace and stability but doing so through deterrence. And we believe that that involves a wide range of efforts, not just the provision of arms of a defensive nature to Taiwan, but also working to build out Taiwan’s international space and to ensure that Taiwan continues to play a key role globally as well. But we’re committed to using all means at our disposal to contribute to that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. And I think you’ve outlined the case very well, Mr. Ranking Member. Thank you.