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Top Democrat calls for new strategy to address China threats

Top Democrat calls for new strategy to address China threats
© Aaron Schwartz

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Former Pentagon chief to testify about Capitol riot Wednesday | Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move Wyden: Funding infrastructure with gas tax hike a 'big mistake' Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move MORE (D-Va.) on Monday called for a "comprehensive strategy" in dealing with China, saying the Trump administration should be less "erratic and incoherent" in its approach to Chinese threats in cyberspace and other areas.

“The president’s insistence on framing this as a conflict between our two countries has resulted in little tangible gain,” Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “We cannot afford to frame this strategic challenge in simplistic, Cold War terms — dividing the world in two and fighting for a bigger half.”

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Warner argued that the administration needs to step up and “defend against China’s bad behavior.”

“We need a comprehensive strategy to defend against China’s bad behavior, to compete with China in the 21st century and to strengthen the international order it seeks to upend,” he added.

Warner said confronting Chinese efforts to dominate fields such as telecommunications, science and technology and the military was the “great foreign policy challenge of our time.”

Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property has been a focal point of Trump's year-plus trade war with China. The issue also found its way into the Democratic presidential primary, with candidates raising their concerns during the debate in Houston earlier this month.

Warner on Monday advocated for the need to strengthen and secure U.S. military equipment supply chains and telecommunications supply chains against Chinese cyberattacks. He also highlighted the need to create “clear consequences” for American businesses that work with China and ignore threats to “global norms and rules.”

He cited the potential threats posed by products from Chinese telecom groups Huawei and ZTE, particularly as 5G networks are rolled out worldwide.

The Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration issued an interim rule in August banning federal agencies from purchasing equipment from those companies, citing national security concerns.

The Commerce Department added Huawei to its “entity list” earlier this year. U.S. firms are banned from doing business with companies on the list.

President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote READ: Liz Cheney's speech on the House floor Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' MORE, however, cast uncertainty on that designation when he announced at the Group of 20 summit in June that he would allow U.S. companies to sell products to Huawei in cases where there are no national security concerns.

Warner criticized Trump’s suggestion that Huawei could be used as a “bargaining chip” in U.S.-China trade negotiations, which are set to resume next month.

“Our efforts to convince allies to adopt alternatives to Huawei have been constantly undermined, particularly when the president keeps hinting that restrictions on Huawei could be a bargaining chip in the context of a wider trade deal,” Warner said.

The Virginia Democrat has been one of the most active senators when it comes to addressing cyberthreats from China and Russia.

He has sponsored several bills designed to cut down on Chinese threats, including a bill with Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoTop Republican seeks clarity on estimate of trillion in unpaid taxes Biden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push Bottom line MORE (R-Idaho) that would assist in protecting the supply chain for critical technologies. He sponsored another bill with Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate votes to repeal OCC 'true lender' rule Democrats cool on Crist's latest bid for Florida governor Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls MORE (R-Fla.) that would establish an Office of Critical Technologies and Security at the White House to protect against state-sponsored intellectual property theft.

Warner said Monday that he intends to introduce legislation to address the use of shell companies by the Chinese government and other malicious actors to invest in the U.S.