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Defense Bill Takes Aim At China, But Leaves Out Key Restrictions

  • The National Defense Authorization Act for 2024 includes several measures to counter Chinese influence but dropped many others.
  • Items in the bill include investigations into whether defense funds were used by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, whether the Chinese government has supported Mexican drug cartels and requires the U.S. to delist China as a “developing country,” while items excluded range from studies of China’s role in Africa to an export ban on weapons to Hong Kong.
  • “[N]o compromise with the Democrat-led Senate and White House would be perfect,” wrote House Speaker Mike Johnson in a letter to his colleagues.

Congress’ compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2024 (NDAA) takes aim at China by scrutinizing its relationships with Mexican drug cartels and Russia while also leaving out key restrictions.

High-ranking officials in both major political parties have often stated that countering China’s rise is America’s top foreign policy priority. On Dec. 6, Congressional leaders issued a 3,093-page report with a compromise version of the NDAA, which includes several measures to counter Chinese influence but dropped dozens of others — such a extending a ban on weapons exports and studies of China’s influence abroad — that were included in the House’s version.

“We succeeded in reducing extraneous provisions hitching a ride to the NDAA, which is evidenced by the fact that the final bill is 2,100 pages shorter than last year. While no compromise with the Democrat-led Senate and White House would be perfect, the final product includes meaningful changes,” wrote House Speaker Mike Johnson in a letter to congressional colleagues shared with the Daily Caller News Foundation. “[O]ur conferees for the National Defense Authorization Act have reached an agreement with their Senate counterparts that delivers on our promise to focus the bill on core national defense priorities.”

Among the China-related items included is a provision requiring the Department of Defense (DOD) to investigate whether any of its money was diverted to funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research facility in China that is widely believed to be the alleged source of a laboratory leak of COVID-19.

Multiple U.S. government assessments have concluded that the virus likely leaked from a Chinese laboratory, with the Wuhan Institute previously receiving U.S. taxpayer funds from the National Institutes of Health via EcoHealth Alliance for coronavirus research before the pandemic. The NDAA bans both the Wuhan Institute and EcoHealth Alliance from receiving DOD funding.

The provision also requires investigating whether DOD funds were received by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, which constitutes China’s armed forces. Another provision requires the DOD to investigate whether the CCP supplied fentanyl production components to Mexican drug cartels, which use Chinese precursor chemicals to manufacture and ultimately traffic fentanyl into the United States.

Apart from these investigations, the NDAA also requires the government to oppose classifying China as a “developing country” as well as pursue efforts to revoke such status. China has the second-largest nominal gross domestic product (GDP) in the world, at $17.9 trillion and a poverty rate of 0.6%, yet is still classified as “developing” by many organizations, such as the World Trade Organization, enabling it to receive advantageous treatment.

Furthermore, the bill would require intelligence officials to inform Congress if China cooperates with Russia in any manner regarding their respective nuclear weapons. China and Russia currently have a “no limits” strategic partnership, which has deepened amid Western isolation of Russia during its war against Ukraine.

However, during negotiations, several other China-related measures were dropped. These included a provision that would have banned funding to EcoHealth Alliance for research projects supported by the Chinese government.

Other items dropped from the bill included a ban on DOD funding of the Chinese film industry, a requirement that DOD issue reports on China’s presence in Africa and the Arctic Region as well as a commissioned study on how to stop shipments of fuel to China in case of military conflict. An extension of a ban on weapons exports to Hong Kong, whose government has suppressed pro-democracy activism, was also dropped.

Johnson and Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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