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Lack of a plan drives Mitt Romney ‘nuts’ about U.S. policy on China

Utah Republican urges Biden administration to develop comprehensive strategy

SHARE Lack of a plan drives Mitt Romney ‘nuts’ about U.S. policy on China
A large balloon drifts above the Atlantic Ocean with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it.

A large balloon drifts above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. The balloon was struck by a missile from an F-22 fighter just off Myrtle Beach, fascinating sky-watchers across a populous area known as the Grand Strand for its miles of beaches that draw retirees and vacationers.

Chad Fish via Associated Press

Sen. Mitt Romney urged the Biden administration Thursday to implement recently passed bipartisan legislation requiring the U.S. to develop an overall plan to confront the rise of China.

Lack of a comprehensive strategy, he said, “drives me nuts.”

Last year, the Utah Republican and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., wrote an amendment to the defense spending bill calling for the administration to come up with a comprehensive strategy to address the threat of an emerging China.

Romney and Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the committee ranking Republican, also asked President Joe Biden to provide an update on the progress in 60 days, which has now passed without a response.

Romney told the Foreign Relations Committee that it’s critical for the U.S. to go from ad hoc principles and tactics to a cohesive series of options.

“Not doing so, in my opinion, will leave us in something less than the leadership position we so desperately need to preserve our freedom and prosperity,” he said.

Romney said that in the private sector he helped companies develop strategies.

“I have to tell you, it drives me nuts to watch us deal with China, and have objectives, but to see everybody going in different” directions, he said. “We don’t have a comprehensive, let’s-put-it-together strategy.”

Focus on China policy has sharpened since a Chinese spy balloon hovered over the United States for several days before being downed off the coast of South Carolina last Saturday. Both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the incident.

“A big Chinese balloon in the sky and millions of Chinese TikTok balloons on our phones. Let’s shut them all down,” Romney tweeted last week.

On Thursday, the House unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution condemning the Chinese Communist Party for flying the surveillance balloon over the United States.

In the committee hearing, Romney noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has outlined three principles — invest, align and compete — the administration is pursuing with China. But, he said, principles alone are not enough to address the growing threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

An overall strategy, Romney said, would include the U.S. approach to developing countries, global trade arrangements, economic measures, research and development investments, military procurement and global communication strategies.

It would also contain provisions about Chinese access to American universities and laboratories, visas, social media and raw material processing, among other things, he said.

“You get where I’m going, which is a comprehensive strategy includes dozens upon dozens of strategic and tactical decisions that are combined, changed over the years,” Romney said. “But it is essential, in my view, that we develop that kind of strategy and that it’s kept in a classified setting.”

The law also calls for the administration to bring in outside experts to consult on the plan.

In response, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the State Department is working on all the areas Romney identified, “every single one.”

“Bringing them together and doing the deep work on each one is incredibly time consuming. But we are doing that work,” she said. “I think all of the areas that you laid out are absolutely ones on which we have to be laser-focused and bring together those tactics into an integrated strategy.”

Menendez echoed Romney’s comments, saying that’s why he joined with him on the defense bill amendment calling for a comprehensive plan and “why it is law now.”