Romney: The Administration Must Move Beyond Principles & Develop Comprehensive China Strategy

WASHINGTON—At a Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) urged the Administration to implement his legislation, which was co-sponsored by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and enacted as a part of the in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022, requiring the U.S. to develop a comprehensive strategy to counter the China threat. Romney and Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) previously urged the Administration to begin the process of implementing this legislation. In their November letter, they requested an update on the progress after 60 days, which has just passed.

Romney’s remarks can be found below and video can be found here.

Senator Romney: Chairman Menendez and I last year authored an amendment which was passed in the NDAA that requires the [Administration] to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the threat of an emerging China. Ranking Member Risch and I sent a letter to President Biden urging the Administration to start implementing our legislation. In our letter, we requested an update on the progress after 60 days. The 60 days mark has passed.

Now, Secretary Blinken has laid out three principles that the Administration is pursuing in dealing with China: invest, align, and compete. But I would note that we need to go from principles to a comprehensive strategy and include tactics, and that includes our approach to developing countries, to our global trade arrangements, to economic measures we might want to put in place; to our research and development investments here; to our military procurement; to global communication strategies; to access to our universities; access to our laboratories; to visas we provide to the Chinese; to international institutions that we’re going to be involved with; to our social media strategies; to raw material strategies and our processing here of those raw materials; to the role of USAID; to defending the tactics the Chinese are using.

You get where I’m going, which is a comprehensive strategy includes dozens upon dozens of strategic and tactical decisions that are combined, changed over the years. But it is essential, in my view, that we develop that kind of strategy and that it’s kept in a classified setting. It doesn’t have to go out publicly, but we really need that. We also in this legislation, looked at the strategies of that nature that were developed by Presidents Truman and Reagan and others, the work of George Kennan and Dean Acheson, and said, okay, how were these strategies developed back then? How do they put them together as they were dealing with strategies to deal with the Soviet Union? And [the strategies] involved outside individuals, not just internal, because they knew internal people would be captured by groupthink. They wanted people from the outside, some who were had experience in developing these kinds of strategies.

I spent my private sector career doing something called strategy consulting. We helped companies develop strategies. I have to tell you, it drives me nuts to watch us deal with China, and have objectives, but to see everybody going in different, we don’t have a comprehensive, let’s put it together strategy.

The legislation which Chairman Menendez and I submitted and was passed calls for bringing in an advisory panel of outside experts.It would include people probably from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, from AEI, from Brookings. I mean, a whole range of individuals that would come in and offer ideas and suggestions and comprehensively put that together. If we do that, it’s likely to exist beyond just one administration and becomes the basis for our strategy going forward. I strongly encourage the State Department to take the lead in making sure that we assemble that advisory board.

We lay out what would be included in the strategy. We consider the widest array of options, and that we actually put that together and ultimately brief Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Risch, and others in the Committee on the strategy—that this process is being undertaken. And what some of the conclusions are, it’s essential… But I just want to underscore how critical it is that we go from ad hoc principles and tactics that we apply from time to time to instead fashioning, with the help of outside minds, a comprehensive series of options. We select the option that is our strategy. We move on that basis. Not doing so, in my opinion, will leave us in something less than the leadership position we so desperately need to preserve our freedom and prosperity.

Deputy Secretary of State Sherman: If I may, Mr. Chairman, Senator, we agree with you. We are, in fact, working on every one of those tactical areas that you identified, every single one. Bringing them together and doing the deep work on each one is incredibly time consuming. But we are doing that work. The Secretary does have a foreign affairs policy board. We have an international security board. I will take back your idea that we have an ongoing China-focused council, which we don’t have a specific, though we do consult with outside consultants and outside experts on a constant basis. The Secretary did so in his run up to the potential trip he was making to Beijing, which we postponed. But I think all of the areas that you laid out are absolutely ones on which we have to be laser-focused and bring together those tactics into an integrated strategy. That is what we are working on doing and having every single mission around the world have a bespoke strategy for their country, because every country is different and China is present in every single one.

Romney: Thank you, Deputy Secretary. Thank you.

Chairman Menendez: Well, let me just echo Senator Romney’s view, which is why I joined with him in the amendment and which is why it is law now. So, I think, Madam Secretary, maybe one of the benefits of hearing your answer would be a more in detail opportunity to, in some briefing, to share with members who are interested about exactly how you’re going about and the universe that is being advised. So, I just want to echo Senator Romney’s concerns.

Background on Romney’s China Grand Strategy Legislation:

The legislation requires the United States to develop a grand strategy to address the new era of geostrategic and geoeconomic competition with China. In addition to beginning to process of developing the strategy, the legislation requires the president to convene an advisory board of outside experts from the private sector, academia, and think tanks to analyze, challenge, and make recommendations for the strategy, including challenging the strategy’s assumptions and approach.