As if 2020 weren’t already chaotic enough, it’s coming to a close with revelations of a federal tax investigation into President-elect Joe Biden’s son and severed ties between a House Intelligence Committee and a Chinese spy.
The clouds over Hunter Biden — whose business dealings in China were scrutinized by two GOP committee chairs in the Senate — and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., raise fresh questions about how the United States will confront one of its top strategic foes in 2021 and beyond.
President-elect Joe Biden is perceived as being much friendlier to China than President Trump, but Capitol Hill remains wary.
Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., introduced a bill this month to block federal tax dollars from being spent on any goods or services from 20 Chinese-state-owned companies connected to the People’s Liberation Army.
China’s military is involved with several businesses that produce and sell telecommunications devices, electronics, chemicals and even personal protective equipment, and Norman contends they use government subsidies to undercut competitors.
“China is the enemy and we have gotten too dependent on them,” Norman told Fox News. “This bill will shine the light on this problem. If we are paying companies tied to China’s People’s Liberation Army, it not only makes no sense as economic policy, it makes no sense as national security policy.”
A China hawk, Norman is also an ally of President Trump who called his impeachment last year a “charade” and backed an effort by Texas to overturn Joe Biden’s Georgia win in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Companies affected by Norman’s bill include the Chinese state-owned rail conglomerate Chinese Railway Rolling Stock Corp., better known as CRRC, which has reportedly made aggressive inroads in the U.S. market and globally.
President-elect Joe Biden with his son, Hunter, at a college basketball game in Washington in 2010. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware is investigating the younger Biden’s taxes. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
Lawmakers and the Trump administration have also worried openly about Chinese espionage, a concern highlighted by this week’s disclosure of years-old ties between Swalwell, a Democrat, and Beijing agent Christine Fang.
She reportedly made inroads with several political figures and began associating with Swalwell in his days as a council member in Dublin City, Calif. Swalwell’s office has said the congressman hasn’t communicated with Fang in almost six years.
While Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stood by Swalwell, Norman said he doesn’t understand why the California congressman continues to serve on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
“Members of the Intelligence Committee have information even other members of Congress don’t have access to,” Norman said, noting that privileged information could have leaked to Fang. “I don’t understand why doesn’t he resign, or at least step down from the committee. There is no excuse for it. He ought to resign, he’s a fraud and a hypocrite.”
Norman also sponsored legislation that would require visa sponsors for foreign academics to notify the Department of Homeland Security when a recipient participates in federally funded research. Further, the bill calls for allowing the revocation of such visas if participation is deemed a risk.
The move follows a string of federal charges against students and faculty with ties to the Chinese government accused of infiltrating schools such as Harvard University, Boston University, Emory University and the University of California San Francisco to access research.
In September, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced the revocation of more than 1,000 visas mostly held by graduate students and researchers visiting the U.S. He cited problems including China’s theft of intellectual property and trade secrets.
Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., also has drafted legislation addressing the matter that would require disclosure of any funds provided to visa applicants by the Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party.
“If there is a potential spy that could infiltrate research at American universities, our government should know about it, so we can tell our national security allies,” Steube told Fox News.
The legislation coincides with a strategy report from the Republican Study Committee’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Task Force.
One bill from the task force’s package of proposals would require the Treasury Department to compile a list of Chinese companies with a pattern of stealing intellectual property.
Another would ban entry into the U.S. of any Chinese Communist Party official or active member of the Peoples Liberation Army without approval from the director of national intelligence.
Steube, who wants bipartisan Congressional efforts to hold China accountable, said he isn’t optimistic that Biden will be tough on the country, which is home to the world’s second-largest economy.
“His national security team looks set on taking the old approach to China,” Steube said. “I would not be surprised at all if he repealed the stronger trade deals with China under Trump.”
Biden might rise to the occasion, at least in the early going, said Craig Singleton, an adjunct fellow focusing on China at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.
Singleton noted that during a primary debate, Biden referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “thug” for his authoritarian actions.
“I think he will avoid any serious change in China policy from the outgoing administration, particularly out of the gate,” Singleton told Fox News. “The current policies provide the Biden administration with leverage to negotiate with China on their own agenda, such as climate change.”
Biden must hold China accountable for unanswered questions about the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, he added. The Trump administration repeatedly faulted China for failing to contain the disease, which was first identified in the city of Wuhan late last year, and has killed more people in the U.S. than in any other country.
While Singleton expects Biden would take a multilateral approach by rejoining the World Health Organization, there are opportunities.
“The world is owed answers on COVID’s origins,” Singleton said. “The responsibility falls largely to the WHO. The next administration will rejoin the WHO, but must partner with allies to exert pressure on the WHO to fast track an investigation into COVID and China.”