November 12, 2019
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) spoke on the Senate floor this evening about the current U.S.-China trade relationship.
As prepared for delivery:
I’m here today to talk about an important vote I took 19 years ago—a vote about free trade and China.
You might think it is out of character for me to be down here on the floor talking about trade with China, because usually I’m down here talking about how they’re investing in their military at unprecedented rates – or how they are passing us up in terms of our military.
The reality is that when it comes to China—which is entirely controlled by the tyrannical Communist party—you can’t separate their trade behavior from their military, like you can in a democratic government.
China asserts its power both economically and militarily – to the detriment of the free world.
So, 19 years ago I came down to the Senate floor and took a stand against the tyrannical regime in China. The vote was on whether or not to allow the Chinese government normalized trade relationships with the United States—paving the way for China to join the World Trade Organization.
At that time, it wasn’t popular to be any member of the Senate who stood in the way of a free trade agreement, much less a Republican. But—as I saw then—this vote did much more than open up trade.
It granted favors to an authoritarian regime despite their openly predatory actions without demanding concessions in return.
My colleagues claimed that opening China to free trade would cause them to change their behavior. Clearly, that hasn’t happened—but I’ll get to that in a minute. Filled with false hope and empty promises, the trade agreement sailed through the Senate – 83 to 15 – and was signed by then-President Clinton.
I am the only one of those 15 “no” votes still serving in the Senate.
Today, 19 years later, we’ve seen the reality of what I thought would happen. At the time, I said:
“We cannot allow the pursuit of dollars to blind us to certain realities about the ruling communist regime in China, including:
I continued: “To ignore these actions in the belief that they can be separated from what we do in our trading relationship is dangerously misguided. China’s trade surpluses are helping to finance the regime’s military buildup and aggressive foreign policy, while strengthening its hold on economic and political power.
I don’t take any pride in being right—because the outcome has been devastating for American workers. China’s stolen our technology and personnel secrets and taken millions of U.S. jobs over the past two decades. The facts today show it. Let’s go quickly through a few of what I predicted and see where we are today:
First, threats against the United States and Taiwan. That’s pretty clear. Just look at China’s reaction to a recent, routine arms sale to Taiwan of tanks and Stinger missiles. Keep in mind, China has known since 1979 that we sell arms to Taiwan to aid in their self-defense.
They threatened that they were prepared to go to war to defend their “unity and territorial integrity.” Over a routine arms sale.
In the past year alone, Beijing has frequently threatened to use force against any who opposed the Communist Party’s designs on Taiwan. So—despite free trade, China has not stopped their threatening behavior towards the United States and Taiwan.
Next, massive military modernization and build up. It’s obvious to everyone that China hasn’t changed their behavior on this because of free trade. It’s emboldened them. China has become more aggressive as our free trade system has subsidized their economy.
Some key facts: over the last decade, the Chinese government has grown their military spending by 83 percent. 83 percent. Meanwhile, during the last five years of the Obama administration, we decreased our military spending by 25 percent.
That’s why today, China is building naval ships at a faster rate than we are and is on pace to surpass the number of vessels by 2030. It’s why China is investing heavily in cyber capabilities, aviation, artillery, and hypersonic weapons.
Each capability – if not superior to ours – has the potential to do us significant harm. In 2018, I visited our allies in Southeast Asia where I saw the Chinese military buildup in the South China Seas for myself. I also went to Djibouti, where I flew over their first international military base.
Department of Defense officials expect the Chinese to open more bases too – in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia and in the Pacific—all strategically important locations.
When I talk to our allies in the Pacific, they are concerned – and many are beginning to hedge their bets because they see what China is doing.
And after eight years of President Obama’s weak leadership, it’s getting more difficult for us to prove to them that we’re actually interested in standing up to China’s aggression.
Third, theft of U.S. secrets. There is an old saying – what China doesn’t have, it steals. That’s even more apparent today than it was in 2000.
China is still actively pursuing and stealing some of our most valuable military secrets. Just last year, China hacked a Navy contractor and stole massive amounts of classified data. That practice isn’t new – but it’s still having serious impacts on our ability to stay ahead of China militarily.
We’re seeing an alarming rise in how China steals industrial secrets. They do it out in the open – for example, by forcing any American business who wants to operate in China to form a “partnership” with a Chinese business.
Sadly, these partnerships are nothing more than a way for the Chinese Communist Party to access and steal proprietary ideas and technology.
They also do it in nefarious ways—through exploiting educational relationships on college campuses or stealing biomedical research during the peer-review process.
This is no small thing. One in five American companies have been victims of Chinese intellectual property theft. That matters because nearly 80 percent of our economy is based on intangibles—the very things the Chinese are stealing.
Safe to say – this is another area where the regime in Beijing has been emboldened by free trade, at the expense of American innovation and economic growth.
China hasn’t changed its position on exploiting commercial relationships either. For the past two decades, China has taken advantage of countries—weaponizing their debt and working to control ports, infrastructure and other territory, posing a very real threat to U.S. interests.
There is no place where this is more apparent than in Africa, where I keep hearing: “America will tell you what you need; China will build it for you.”
I’ve been to Africa more than any other member of the U.S. Senate, and I have seen the Chinese debt trap hobble more promising governments.
But it goes far beyond the developing world—and extends right into our own back yard. Just look at the recent issue with the NBA, where the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted a message in support of the Hong Kong protesters.
The backlash was swift – China stopped airing Rockets games or streaming them online, and their online retailers pulled merchandise from online stores.
We’ve also seen issues with U.S. hotels, aviation companies – even the GAP—being forced to edit and self-censor to remove any reference that even tangentially refers to Taiwan, Tibet or Hong Kong not being part of the People’s Republic China, all to appease the Communist Party.
Tiffany’s, the jewelry company, was pressured to remove an advertisement of a woman covering her eye because images of a protester in Hong Kong with a wounded eye got international attention.
We live in a democracy and we don’t dictate to private businesses what they should or shouldn’t do. This is not the case in China. Yet, if we continue down this road of self-censorship, the Party’s demands will escalate and it will be harder and harder to exercise freedom of expression.
Lastly—brutal repression of dissidents. More than anything, I would like to say this was an area where free trade had forced the Chinese Communist Party to change its behavior, but we know that it isn’t true.
We all know the atrocities of what is going on in Xinjiang province, where the government is forcing a Muslim minority into concentration camps, though they call them “reeducation camps.”
We all know what is going on in Hong Kong, where Beijing is repressing a democratic demonstration with brutal tactics.
And outside of the areas that, despite China’s best efforts, have attracted international attention, we still know about the atrocities the Chinese Communist Party quietly inflicts on journalists, Christian minorities in house churches an in communities across China every day.
Now, I’ve just painted a very bleak picture of U.S. – China relations, and how unrestricted trade didn’t force the ruling party in Beijing to change its behavior, but the good news is help is finally on the way.
After the trade deal was enacted, I kept speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party – calling attention to their human rights abuses, their military buildup, their manipulative trade tactics and their economic bullying.
I pushed every president until now to stand up to the economic powerhouse before it was too late, and they outmatched us.
Now, we have the first president since 2000 to take China seriously: President Trump. He’s clear-eyed about the regime in Beijing. He knows that our trade relationship has been unfair and imbalanced, and he understands that we need real and permanent fixes it in order to have any long-term stability.
He has effectively applied tariffs, both to punish the Chinese government for its manipulative trade practices, but also to support critical industries in the United States.
The result – China’s economy slowed to its lowest point since 1992 – and that’s if you believe their official numbers. The economic pressure brought them to the table, ready to make a real deal—one that is fair and has accountability.
So far, we’ve gotten “phase one” – a preliminary first deal and the outcome is good for farmers in Oklahoma and across the country. For the first time, China has agreed to purchase $40 to $50 billion worth of American agricultural goods.
That would be the highest level since 2012. That’s a good start.
The fight against China’s economic manipulation and influence is not over. And it can’t just be limited to shrinking the trade deficit through greater purchases of American goods.
Future parts of any agreement need to be sure to address the concerns presidents of both parties neglected for decades—including theft of intellectual property and industrial secrets, forced technology transfer, reciprocal access to markets, and subsidies to China’s state-owned enterprises.
And all of this needs to be placed into the proper context of the Communist Party’s ambitions on the world stage: to rewrite the rules of international system, to make the world safe for authoritarians to suppress democracy and abuse human rights, and to achieve global military superiority by mid-century.
President Trump’s stand against China on trade has provoked a lot of discussion about our competition with China.
We must remember that this is not a competition against China, but a competition for influence—the kind of influence that decides what kind of world our kids and grandkids are going to live in.
In this competition, we cannot afford to be naïve. The Chinese Communist Party has a very different version of the world it would like to create. So even as we keep talking about trade and tariffs, we have to remember that our values are still America’s most precious commodity.
And it is our values—free people and truly free markets—that must guide us in the competition ahead.