GOP senators introduce bill to push tougher trade stance on China

Greg Nash

A trio of Republican senators are rolling out legislation advocating a tighter trading stance on China amid bipartisan calls for Washington to get tough on Beijing.

GOP Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), James Inhofe (Okla.) and Rick Scott (Fla.) introduced the China Trade Relations Act on Thursday. The bill would revoke China’s permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status with the U.S.

Instead, it would push for a return to a pre-2001 system and force Beijing to obtain most favored nation (MFN) status each year, subject to presidential approval. 

The legislation would also expand the range of human rights and trade abuses that would bar Beijing from earning the special status, including operating “vocational training and education centers” or other concentration camps, a swipe at China’s widespread detention of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang region. 

The special trade status, which the bill would have China request annually, would allow Beijing to receive equal treatment as any other country with MFN status with which the U.S. trades. China has enjoyed the more permanent free trade relationship since 2001, when the PNTR designation was granted.

“For twenty years, China has held permanent most-favored-nation status, which has supercharged the loss of American manufacturing jobs. It’s time to protect American jobs and hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for their forced labor camps and egregious human rights violations,” Cotton, a vocal China hawk and potential 2024 presidential contender, said in a statement

“I have fought every day since being elected to the Senate to promote human rights and make sure Communist China faces consequences for its aggression. I am proud to join my colleagues to continue this important work of protecting Americans from the threat of Communist China and its unfair trade practices, and holding General Secretary Xi accountable for his horrific human rights abuses,” added Scott, another possible 2024 candidate.

The legislation’s introduction comes as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle call on the Biden administration to adopt a tougher stance on China. While President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have said they’ll seek Beijing’s cooperation on issues like climate change, they have forecasted they will confront it over human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices. 

The Biden administration has already sanctioned 24 Chinese officials over Beijing’s efforts to “unilaterally undermine Hong Kong’s electoral system” amid suppression of pro-democracy protests there. 

“The relationship with China is a very complex one: It has adversarial aspects; it has competitive aspects; it has cooperative aspects. But the common denominator in dealing with each of those is to make sure we’re approaching China from a position of strength,” Blinken said in an interview with Japanese broadcasting network Nippon TV during his first overseas trip to Asia as secretary of State.

Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan are set to meet with their Chinese counterparts in Alaska on Thursday.

Tags Antony Blinken Jake Sullivan Jim Inhofe Joe Biden Most favoured nation Permanent normal trade relations Rick Scott Tom Cotton United States trade policy

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