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Mitt Romney says aging Congress isn’t equipped to come up with plan to counter China

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, listens during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 25, 2021. On Wednesday, Romney said a “long of tooth” Congress isn’t equipped to come up with a plan to counter China.

Caroline Brehman, Associated Press

Sen. Mitt Romney didn’t sound optimistic Wednesday about the prospect of a “long of tooth” — or aging — Congress coming up with a plan to match the rising power of China around the globe.

The Utah Republican said in a Senate hearing that it’s clear China has a “extraordinarily comprehensive strategy” to dominate its region and ultimately the world economically and militarily.

“There is no way that a bunch of men and women in Congress are going to come up with a strategy to confront that. We are being outcompeted in a dramatic way on the world stage. We’re not equipped as a group of folks that are a little long of tooth to come up with something so comprehensive that we’re going to push back in a positive way and assert our leadership in the world,” Romney said.

“And so I wonder, what do we do?”

Romney’s remarks came during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled “Advancing Effective U.S. Policy for Strategic Competition with China in the Twenty-First Century.”

Just last week, the first-term senator and seven GOP colleagues reintroduced the Strengthening Trade, Regional Alliances, Technology and Economic and Geopolitical Initiatives Concerning China Act to advance a comprehensive strategy for U.S. competition with China. 

Romney said the U.S. must take “decisive action now” to confront China’s growing aggression, which includes working with allies to dissuade the Chinese Communist Party from its predatory policies and demanding that China abide by norms and rules other nations follow.

On Monday, Romney called for an economic and diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, while allowing American athletes to compete.

“Let us demonstrate our repudiation of China’s abuses in a way that will hurt the Chinese Communist Party rather than our American athletes: reduce China’s revenues, shut down their propaganda, and expose their abuses,” he said in an op-ed published in the New York Times.

In the hearing, Romney asked a panel of China experts how the U.S. should go about developing a comprehensive approach, including where and how much money to invest to counter China.

“Because at this stage we are highly reactive and, frankly, for the last decade or so we’re losing pretty badly,” he said.

Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, said the U.S. needs to have its own vision of its place in the world and work with its allies to make it a reality.

“Otherwise, we end up simply responding to a thousand different initiatives that China is putting forth,” she said. “Really, it should be about what does the United States want this world to look like in 2050 and how are we going to get there.”

Tom Shugart, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, said it must be a team effort among like-minded democracies that are going to have to band together “ever tighter” to counteract Chinese military power.

“From a military perspective, China’s not really trying all that hard yet,” he said, adding its military spending is less than 2% of gross domestic product. “They’re not quite breaking a sweat yet.”

Romney said he is struck by the massive investment China is making around the world, including in propaganda, sending students around the world and loans in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

“How are they financing all this? How do they afford it? Where’s the money coming from?” he asked. “Because we’re not providing anywhere near the kind of investment around the world that they are and, yet, we’re the larger economy.”

Economy said much of China’s Belt and Road initiative — a massive infrastructure project that would stretch from East Asia to Europe — is funded with loans. 

China, she said, is lending the money to foreign countries which often use Chinese construction firms and equipment.

“It’s one big cycle of Chinese money going through and back to China,” Economy said. “They’re able to do that because they have such low-cost labor, they underbid and they subsidize.”

China has put a priority on that and the U.S. has not, she said.

“I think fundamentally what it speaks to is (Chinese President) Xi Jinping’s belief that this kind of outreach is going to pay off over the long term,” Economy said.