The House passed a bipartisan compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2022 (NDAA), the annual defense spending bill, on Dec. 7. The bill includes many provisions aimed at countering the Chinese regime but excluded or watered down several other China-related items from earlier drafts.
In all, the bill would authorize the Pentagon to receive $768 billion in funding for the 2022 fiscal year, some $25 billion more than what President Biden initially asked for.
A substantial part of the bill is dedicated to better positioning the military to counter an increasingly aggressive Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The extent of that competition is global, but the NDAA gives particular focus to the Indo-Pacific region.
Specifically, the bill authorizes $7.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), a broad strategic effort to develop more forces and focus strategic efforts in the Indo-Pacific toward countering the Chinese regime.
That price tag was $2.1 billion more than what Pentagon leaders requested. Lawmakers said, however, that military leadership was too focused on the specific systems they would invest in and not on broader issues of readiness.
The Pentagon’s initial request “improperly focused on platforms… as opposed to improving the joint posture and enabling capabilities necessary to enhance deterrence in the Indo-Pacific,” according to a joint statement by the Armed Services Committees that outlined changes made in their compromise.
“We reiterate our strong support for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative as means to prioritize Department of Defense efforts in support of enhancing U.S. deterrence and defense posture, reassuring allies and partners, and increasing readiness and capability in the Indo-Pacific region, primarily west of the International Date Line.”
The statement said that the increased funding would establish a “baseline” to measure the effectiveness of the PDI in the coming years.
The compromise bill also stated that a core aim was the “maintenance or restoration of the comparative military advantage of the United States with respect to the People’s Republic of China.”
To this end, the bill supports continued efforts to provide Taiwan with asymmetric military capabilities and training to avoid a “fait accompli” from Chinese invasion. This is in line with the Taiwan Relations Act, which mandates that the United States provide Taiwan with the ability to defend itself.
The defense bill also orders a comparative analysis of China-U.S. military modernization programs and orders the Department of Defense (DoD) to inform Congress if the CCP obtains a superior number of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Many such reports established by the bill are to be classified upon release.
The bill also orders the establishment of a new grand strategy for dealing with China following the release of the president’s new national security strategy in 2022, and the organization of a new advisory board in the executive branch intended to advise the president on issues of China grand strategy.
The bill bars the funds from procuring any products mined, produced, or manufactured by forced labor in Xinjiang.
Trimming the Fat
There were also several provisions concerned with countering China that were watered down or removed outright from the final compromise passed by the House Tuesday night.
- A provision that would have required the secretary of state to report on the compliance of China with article 6 of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (good faith negotiations to avoid an arms race);
- A provision that would have mitigated global financial threats from China by encouraging United States cooperation with the International Monetary Fund and Financial Stability Board;
- A provision that would have established a working group to coordinate semiconductor manufacturing between the United States and Taiwan;
- A provision that would have required a report on U.S. strategic efforts to counter malign influence by China and Russia in Africa;
- A provision that would have rejected the application of China’s Maritime Traffic Safety Law within the Nine-Dash Line;
- A provision that would have established a diplomatic influence operation to counter Chinese influence globally; and
- A provision that would have barred the use of Pentagon funds from being used on any research or products in mainland China.
The last two provisions are of particular interest as their removal indicates a stepping back of actions that would have tackled China’s influence through specified policies, as opposed to other provisions throughout the bill that merely establish feasibility reports without committing to action.
The influence operation cut from the final NDAA was the so-called “China Watcher Program.”
The program would have committed $10 million annually toward placing experts and diplomats in positions to monitor malign influence by the CCP across military, economic, and political sectors in foreign countries.
Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY), who introduced the provision, expressed mixed emotions about the final compromise bill.
“While there were so many wins in the bipartisan NDAA, I am disappointed that my China Watcher Amendment was not included in the final bill,” Tenney said in an email.
“China remains a threat to our national and economic security and the United States can and should be doing much more to track its malign activities.”
Tenney said that she would continue to push for a vote on a separate bill, HR 5760, that would establish the China Watcher Program outside of the NDAA.
Similarly, the previous House version of the bill would have barred the use of any and all Pentagon monies from being used on development or research conducted in China.
The final version limits that order to just one organization: EcoHealth Alliance.
EcoHealth Alliance is a New York-based nonprofit research organization that drew criticism after it was accused of breaking government rules barring the pursuit of gain-of-function research, which it allegedly conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the location at the center of the lab leak COVID-19 origin theory.
The new NDAA provision bars the transfer of DoD funds to EcoHealth Alliance for any research conducted in China or for any entity determined by the Secretary of Defense to be owned or controlled by China.