To counter China, US & India need to work on joint eco action: R Krishnamoorthi | World News - Hindustan Times
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To counter China, US & India need to work on joint eco action: R Krishnamoorthi

Jun 18, 2024 08:55 AM IST

In a recent interview with HT, he offered an overall assessment of the state of US-China competition

As the ranking member of the House select committee on the strategic competition between the US and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi is among the most important voices in the American debate on China. He was also a co-sponsor of the legislation that has mandated either a change in TikTok’s ownership, divesting it from Chinese control, or a banning the app in the US. A Democrat from Illinois, Krishnamoorthi is also a member of the House permanent select committee on intelligence.

Krishnamoorthi is among the most important voices in the American debate on China. (Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi | Official X account)
Krishnamoorthi is among the most important voices in the American debate on China. (Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi | Official X account)

In a recent interview with HT, he offered an overall assessment of the state of US-China competition across the strategic, economic and technological dimensions and India’s role in this competition. Edited excerpts:

Give us the big picture view of strategic competition with China at the moment.

On a bipartisan basis, the US Congress has woken up to the competition in a big way and is taking meaningful steps to address the economic, military and technological aggression that marks the CCP’s behavior. The Joe Biden administration is also doing quite a bit to both prepare us for the competition, but at the same time, to have meaningful dialogue at the highest levels to explain to the CCP that this aggression that they pursue is counter-productive, not only for relationships with their neighbours and others, but also counter-productive for their own economic aspirations.

In terms of the geopolitical competition, how do you assess the China-Russia partnership?

It’s a marriage of convenience. The CCP needs cheap oil and the Russians desperately need technology that they are basically being starved of because of their criminal invasion of Ukraine. Long-term, the two countries have had numerous conflicts and tensions between the two of them. At this moment, the CCP is now no longer the junior partner but is the senior partner. What the CCP needs to understand is that their assistance to Russia only strengthens the long-term alliance between the US, Europe, and democracies of the world as they adopt multilateral countermeasures.

How would you assess the state of US-China tech competition? And what prompted you to bring the bill on TikTok?

For years, members of both parties have been concerned about the national security threat posed by foreign adversary controlled social media applications. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that is controlled by the CCP. And so after some halting starts with regard to legislation pursued by various members of Congress, we all decided to come together and recognise that our greatest challenge here is avoiding infighting that could be engendered by CCP-directed parties — whether Bytedance, TikTok, their lobbyists, friends of those lobbyists, other interested parties, or other interested partners of the CCP. And we negotiated over a long period of time significant changes that reflect various stakeholder interests. And we achieved a monumental bipartisan accomplishment. This is the first time that we have combated CCP technological aggression and first time in decades that we have done anything with regard to social media.

Were you surprised with the extent and nature of the lobbying ByteDance put up on the Hill? And what does that tell us about what the Chinese are willing to do to advance their interests?

They will stop at nothing to advance their interests, and they will expend any amount of money, time, and other resources to try to get their way. What we have to do is recognise that this is what they are going to do, be prepared for it, and then move resolutely, in a bipartisan unified manner, to deal with it.

On tech, the Biden administration has put in place export controls. Is that weakening China’s capacity?

The object of those particular export controls is to prevent the CCP from gaining access to technology that could help to further the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army and harm our national security, as well as further their ability to perpetrate human rights abuses, for instance, with regards to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The Biden administration’s work has been excellent, but obviously it needs to continue to adapt to changing circumstances. And we need to make sure that we update these particular rules as we learn more about how the CCP is going to act in countering them.

Fundamentally, the CCP’s problem is that they have a system of tremendous control over all sectors of the economy, including the semiconductor and other hi-tech areas. They think that merely putting money into these areas is enough to gain a competitive advantage. And to some extent, they have made progress. However, any system that stifles freedom of thought, speech, the various freedoms associated with an innovation economy, is not going to meet its goal of achieving the highest technical excellence. And so that is the fundamental dilemma for the CCP.

We in the US also have to do much more to advantage ourselves in this competition. So it’s not just enough to look at the other guy and point out that he is not able to run as fast as we are today. We have to run faster than we are today. That means investing in research and development into emerging technologies of the future, whether AI, nanoscale computing, quantum computing, bio technologies of the future etc. We also have to fix our legal immigration system. If we don’t, we can’t attract and retain the best and the brightest from around the world to innovate in these areas. And we have to upgrade the skills of our current workforce because if they can’t gain access to those skills necessary for improving our ability to compete in these areas, not only will we not benefit from their innovation, but we will also harm their ability to climb the up escalator of the economy.

Can you take us through the state of economic competition, especially with administration’s recent tariffs? And is it your sense that corporate America still remains China’s biggest lobbying group within the US?

So with regard to the second question, I sense that many businesses, whether they are small, medium or large businesses, are wary of what’s happening within China today. And so they are of mixed minds with regard to how they view the Chinese market. On the one hand, it’s very tantalising. On the other hand, their attempts to penetrate that market have not always been successful. In fact, sometimes they have to enter into a Faustian bargain, which is they have to give away their intellectual property to local partners in order to access the market. And then pretty soon they find that the local partners have become their competitors, not only in China but worldwide. So this is like a big challenge for them. I don’t think the Chinese market looks as appealing to them as it did before. And indeed they come to me routinely and ask for support as they face unfair competitive practices such as dumping and the use of slave labour and products competing with their own and so forth.

With regard to your first issue, I strongly support the Biden administration’s recent moves with regard to tariffs. Look, tariffs are our countermeasure to their economic aggression. The less economic aggression they practice, then the case can be made for lower countermeasures. But if they are going to persist, especially with dumping in the green good sector — solar panels, electric vehicles, batteries, you name it — then we have no choice but to adopt countermeasures.

The global South needs tangible public goods. The Chinese provide it to a greater extent than the US can. Is the US doing enough to compete with China in the global south on the development axis?

No. We actually had a hearing talking about the Belt and Road Initiative and how it’s really a corrupt bargain that the CCP is trying to enter into with the global South and other countries, whereby they basically layer debt upon debt on these countries in return for shoddy infrastructure projects that essentially use Chinese materials and Chinese labor to build them, and they also involve corruption and bribery in the process. We have to have a competing offering with regard to economic development throughout the world. So we have to reform certain institutions to do that. In addition, I’ve been calling for a return to the GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) schedule, which many members of our committee have now advocated. And so we are looking for hopefully some relief in Congress so that our partners around the world who may otherwise look to China, look to us as valuable trading partners.

What is the role that you see for India in this broader competition with China?

India and the US are growing closer in terms of their security ties. I am glad that they are working together in numerous ways, and in unprecedented ways, thanks to the Biden administration, to assist each other with regard to regional concerns. And that needs to continue.

The next thing that we need to see is more joint economic action, that is trying to harmonise our approach with regard to, for instance, export controls; trying to harmonise our approach with regard to outbound investments; trying to do whatever we can so that we can stand up some international rules of the road economically. This is very important because the less united we are, the more that China can divide us and pit us against each other.

You are also a member of the House Intelligence Committee. A serving Indian government official has been implicated in an alleged plot to assassinate an American citizen. Is that something that worries you? And what are your expectations from India on this count?

Right now I want to see the different legal processes unfold. I hope that the US and Indian governments continue to discuss this issue and address legitimate concerns, while at the same time we have to recognise our common challenges and work on those simultaneously. We are now old friends, and so we have to address legitimate concerns while at the same time pursuing common objectives for common challenges.

There is apprehension in the Indo-Pacific about the possible return of Donald Trump. Should countries in the region be doing more to ‘Trump proof’ this relationship with US?

I think Joe Biden is going to be re-elected.

The most important thing that all countries should do in the region is work on harmonising approaches with the US with regard to various challenges in the international order. Regardless of who the president is, Congress feels very strongly about this issue. Let me just say, Congress is going to be around. As long as Congress has a say — we will always have a strong say, being the Article one power in the Constitution — Republicans and Democrats see a lot of these issues from the same perspective at this point. So I would respectfully say to our partners and friends, work with us in coming up with a unified approach on some of these challenges.

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