SPEECH: Sullivan speaks on U.S.-China relations - March 24, 2021

Mr. President, I wanted to come down to the Senate floor for a couple reasons, but first I want to talk a little bit about what happened in Alaska last weekend--actually, a really important meeting between the United States and China, our senior diplomats, their senior diplomats. It took place in Anchorage, and let's just say the meeting was as frosty as the Alaska air.

It was a tough meeting. The Chinese came out, kind of took a little advantage of being extra verbose in their opening statements, going against the 2-minute, agreed-upon time limit. 

It was a bit of a tongue-lashing, I think, of the U.S. team, our Secretary of State, Tony Blinken. I think our team pushed back appropriately--the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan; Kurt Campbell, who also works at the National Security Council. But this was the first face-to-face meeting between the United States and Chinese diplomats with the Biden administration.

What we saw was a very confident China, a very aggressive China that showed up in Alaska. For example, they were talking about ``Chinese-style democracy.'' We also know that as a dictatorship.

Earth to the Chinese Communist Party: There is no democracy in China. You run an authoritarian regime, so don't try to fool anybody. It is a dictatorship, not a democracy. 

But the bigger issue is this: Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party clearly believe that it is rising, that its rise for this century is unstoppable, and that the United States--and the West but particularly the United States, our country--is declining and there is nothing we can do to stop this. They say this in private. They say it in public. And they believe it. They are confident to the point of being cocky, as we saw in Alaska, to the point of calling their dictatorship a democracy, which, of course, it isn't.

Now, my view--and I think it is the view of every Senator here; I certainly hope it is; I think it is--is that it is never a good idea to bet against the United States. Every major power in the world that has done so has lost that bet. That is a fact, but we clearly have work to do. We have a lot of work to do as it relates to this challenge. 

I have been coming to the Senate floor for the last 6 years talking about this issue, talking about this challenge, talking about some of the things that we need to do to address the biggest U.S. strategic challenge for this century. It is the rise of China.

Now we have a new administration in power, and it was clear from the Alaska meeting that the Chinese Communist Party plans to aggressively challenge the Biden administration. 

Now, I have a lot of disagreements already with the Biden administration, especially the way in which they are treating my State. I have been speaking on the Senate floor--eight Executive orders focused on Alaska, shutting down our economy, killing jobs. And I will fight them hard on this. But, on China, I believe it is imperative that we all work together, not as Democrats and Republicans but as Americans, as we have done when other major powers have threatened the United States. 

The Communist Party of China clearly sees one of our major weaknesses as our political divisions. They write about it. It is in all the intel. They talk about it. Look, we are a democracy. We are transparent, unlike them. Our political divisions are on full display. You see them tonight. By the way, we have had political divisions since the founding of the Republic. 

China doesn't share their political divisions with the world, but they have them, no doubt about it. But here is a fact. Here is a fact, and we all need to know this. Every American needs to know this. Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party's worst nightmare is seeing a determined, long-term, bipartisan, strong U.S. strategy to deal with the rise of China, to deal with the rise of China for what they are: our No. 1 geostrategic challenge for this century. That is why we need to work together on this issue. It is something I have been calling for for a long time. And here is the good news: It is something that is starting to happen. It is something that is starting to happen.

Now, I had a good opportunity to meet with Secretary Blinken, to meet with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his top China national security official, Kurt Campbell, when they were in Alaska. I also was able to get a good debrief from Secretary Austin about his visits in Asia, particularly in India.

The Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor talk about dealing with China from what they call positions or situations of strength--situations of strength. They actually took that term from former Secretary of State Dean Acheson when he was doing something that they are currently trying to do now: putting together a coalition, a long-term strategy, in 1947, 1948, 1949 to deal with the Soviet Union, and they did it with Democrats and Republicans. NATO, the strategy of containment--these were all things that came together in this body.

So I want to talk very briefly about some of these positions of strength that the administration is trying to put together as it relates to China, and I think it is in our interest to help them.

First of all, I think it was important and, of course, as an Alaska Senator, I was glad that meeting took place in Anchorage, but it was also a symbol. One of the things that the Chinese Communist Party frequently states--Xi Jinping frequently states it--is that Asia should be for Asians. The subtext of that is, we are trying to kick the United States out of Asia.

Well, here is more news for the Chinese, for the Communist Party of China: We are an Asian nation. We have been an Asian nation for centuries. My hometown of Anchorage, where this meeting took place, is closer to Tokyo than it is to this city, Washington, DC. The Aleutian Island chain goes to the other side of the international dateline. We are an Asian nation. We are not leaving. We have been there 200 years; we will be there 200, 300, 500 more. 

So that is No. 1, and I am glad they held the meeting in Alaska for that reason, on American soil, and they chose to do that purposely. But let me talk about a couple of other positions of strength that I think it is incumbent upon us to try to help this administration with, help our country with. Some are going to be up to the Senate and the House. A lot more are going to be up to the President and his team. Where we can influence it, we should.

As I mentioned, politically being unified on issues that relate to China is exactly what the Chinese Communist Party fears the most, and it is starting to happen. Legislation to outcompete China economically--critical, critical. The more that we can do that, the more that we can show we are united, the more important what we do here is going to matter in the long-term competition with regard to China. 

Let me give another one. Allies. Allies. The United States is an ally-rich nation. China is an ally-poor country. They have very few allies: maybe North Korea; Russia maybe, maybe not. China doesn't really have allies; they have customers.

We have a network, and it is one of our most important strategic advantages. We need to build upon that network of allies, deepen it, expand it. And I will give the administration a lot of credit for setting this up in an important way for their first meeting, the leaders of the quad. 

The quad is the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, started by President George W. Bush, taken to another level by President Trump, and taken to a really high level by President Biden, the leader level. It was a really smart move. The quad can help anchor our alliances in the region in a critical way. Three of the four biggest economies in the world are part of the quad. Some of the best militaries in the world are part of the quad. So to have that meeting, even though it was virtual, with the leaders--the President, Prime Ministers--of the quad was smart and something I think they should be commended on. Then to have the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense go to Korea, go to Japan; continue on, the Secretary of Defense, to India--also very smart.

The Chinese know this is a huge weakness of theirs, and it is a huge strength of ours. As Senators, the more that we can do to encourage this on our own, go to these countries, reinforce the importance of these alliances--it is clearly a position of strength that the administration is off to a good start with. 

Let me give another one, a position of strength. Our military. Our military. This is going to be pretty simple. If we see dramatic cuts to our military--and right now the Biden administration is debating this. There is a real fight going on internally: Where is the budget going to be? We can't see cuts. 

The second term of the Obama-Biden administration cut defense spending by 25 percent. They gutted readiness. The Chinese and the Russians were applauding that whole period. We have worked hard to build that up under the Trump administration and Republican Senate. They need to keep it going.

And here is going to be a test. Last year in the NDAA, we put in the Defense bill a bipartisan piece of legislation called the Pacific Deterrence Initiative. The admiral in charge of the INDOPACOM region testified in front of the Armed Services Committee very recently. His replacement testified yesterday. All of them said we need to fully fund the Pacific Deterrence Initiative--a bipartisan part of the Defense bill last year--and $4.6 billion is what they think we need to reorder the balance, particularly in the area of the Taiwan Strait. That is public. 

The administration is debating this right now. They need to fund it. This body will approve it. That is going to be a position of strength that is up to them, but people are watching. We are watching, our allies are watching, and, of course, the Chinese Communist Party is watching. 

Let me give one more, one more that I think is critical: taking advantage of America's resources, critical minerals: Yes, energy; yes, natural gas; yes, oil. Prior to the pandemic, we were the world's energy superpower, largest producer of oil in the world, largest producer of natural gas in the world, largest producer of renewables in the world.

This is a good thing for our country. Our allies in the region know it; the Chinese know it. And again, there is a debate within the administration right now on energy.

The President has recently told some of our great Union leaders he is “all in for natural gas.” We should do that. That is the reason we reduced greenhouse gas emissions over the last 15 years, more than any other country--big country--in the world because of the revolution of natural gas. Our allies need that. They know it is a national security strength that we have. 

On the other hand, we have other elements in the administration that clearly want to unilaterally give away our energy comparative advantage, restrict production of oil and gas. It makes no sense.

So energy, energy is another position of strength that we should be encouraging, and I certainly am encouraging the Biden administration to recognize it as something good for our economy, good for jobs and, yes, really good for our national security and really important in our competition with China. The Biden administration national security team knows this. I think they recognize it. But again, we will be watching. It is important. 

This is going to be an issue that we are going to be focused on here in the U.S. Senate, in my view, for the next 50 to 100 years, if we are doing it right. If we work together, if we work from positions of strength, as the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor have mentioned, are focused on, the way this is going to end is the way it ended with other major powers that have challenged the United States. I am very confident of that, and I think most of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle are. We need to get working together on that.