House and Senate Set to Hash Out China Competition Bill
Plus: A Uyghur advocate, born in a Chinese prison, shares insights from his new book.
Good morning. It’s a busy week ahead on Capitol Hill.
Are you a fan of congressional conference committees? If so, the 117th Congress hasn’t been particularly exciting for you—until now.
Competition Conference Committee to Convene
This week is expected to bring the first meeting of the first conference committee this Congress, and the stakes are high. Members from both chambers will begin the arduous process of finding compromise between their two versions of a sweeping competitiveness bill.
The package is intended to bolster America’s competitiveness in the coming years as China seeks to overtake the United States on the global stage.
There’s a lot for lawmakers to agree on: increased funding for semiconductor chip manufacturing, expanded scientific research initiatives, and shoring up supply chains. But the two bills contain many differences, ranging from climate provisions in the House measure to the Senate bill’s tariff relief for businesses.
If you want some background reading, we covered the details of the House bill and how it compares to the Senate version earlier this year, here and here. The Senate passed its version of the competition bill last June, and the House followed with its version this February.
One of the most impactful debates in the coming weeks will center around the House bill’s primary immigration policies, which are not in the Senate-passed version. One section would exempt immigrants with advanced degrees in STEM fields from annual green card limits.
According to the National Immigration Forum, STEM Ph.D.s who have job offers in the United States can sometimes wait for more than a decade to be admitted.
Another provision in the House legislation would establish a new visa status allowing qualifying international entrepreneurs or employees who are working with start-ups in the United States to come to the country. The visa would initially last for three years, but qualifying workers could extend it for another five years.
It’s uncertain which items will end up on the cutting floor. A bipartisan group of former national security leaders and politicians are publicly urging Congress to keep the House’s immigration provisions, arguing the policies will help America compete with China in science and technology.
In a letter sent Monday, signatories who served in the departments of Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency made the case for keeping the immigration policies. Among them: former defense secretaries William Cohen (Clinton administration) and Chuck Hagel (Obama administration), David Norquist (who served as acting secretary of defense during the Trump administration), and former GOP Reps. Mac Thornberry and Barbara Comstock. Thornberry, who didn’t seek reelection in 2020, was previously the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.
“The U.S. remains the most desirable destination for the world’s best international scientists and engineers—a feat that China, despite extensive investments, has not come close to replicating,” the letter reads. “Bottlenecks in the U.S. immigration system risk squandering this advantage.”
“China is the most significant technological and geopolitical competitor our country has faced in
recent times,” the letter continues. “With the world’s best STEM talent on its side, it will be very hard for America to lose. Without it, it will be very hard for America to win.”
The House competition legislation also includes a bill to grant ethnic minorities from Xinjiang priority refugee status in the United States, which would make it easier for them to apply from third-party countries and offer greater protection from China’s influence. It is not in the Senate bill, although it has bipartisan support in that chamber. Experts have pointed to this change as one of the most tangible steps America can take to help Uyghurs and others harmed by China’s genocide.
Book Sheds Light On Genocide in Xinjiang
Nury Turkel was born in 1970 in a Chinese prison center.
It’s fitting that the first four months of his life, spent imprisoned with his mother in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang, are how Turkel’s book, No Escape, begins.
No Escape, out today, tells the story of Turkel’s time in Xinjiang, his advocacy in the United States, and how the Chinese government’s oppression has blocked him from being with his aging parents. But beyond memoir, the book has a primary goal: to heighten public awareness of the genocide in Xinjiang.
Since coming to the United States after finishing an undergraduate degree in 1995, Turkel has been a vocal advocate for Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. He went to law school at American University and became the first U.S.-educated Uyghur attorney. He established the Uyghur Human Rights Project nearly two decades ago, has repeatedly testified before Congress, and now serves as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. With No Escape, Turkel is hoping to bring his message about the atrocities in Xinjiang to a broader audience that may not be fully aware of the horrors Uyghurs face.
“My experience begging people to pay attention, begging those who have the ability to make a difference, was extremely frustrating,” Turkel tells The Dispatch in an interview. In No Escape, he aims to make the issue both personal and applicable to people who may not have spent much time thinking about human rights in China.
“I believe in the power of personal storytelling,” Turkel says.
The book recounts harrowing experiences within China’s network of concentration camps—torture, rape, and brutal conditions for prisoners. Turkel introduces us to men and women personally affected by the genocide in different ways, and how their suffering continues today, even for those who have made it out of Xinjiang to other countries.
I had the chance to read an advance copy of No Escape a few weeks ago, and it is gut-wrenching. Turkel’s writing is powerful. He not only sheds light on the genocide, but he also introduces readers to the Uyghur culture and the longer forms of oppression they have faced under the Chinese government.
He also includes a section about China’s use of technology and surveillance, which he describes as a digital dictatorship. Turkel writes that early optimism that the internet and technological advancement could boost democracy worldwide was misplaced: Authoritarian countries now have more powerful tools to oppress their citizens and further their interests in other countries.
“I’m not seeing enough pushback. This is not about nationalism. This is not about projecting, promoting, protecting American leadership,” Turkel tells The Dispatch of that chapter. “This is about the ongoing influence operations, transnational repression turning this country almost unrecognizable.”
“Forget about the other moral issues for a minute. What kind of future do you want? What kind of country do you want?” he adds. “Competition is nice. You and I can compete, but we’re not there to destroy each other. But the CCP wants to replace us. That’s not a competition. That’s a huge national security threat."
On the Floor
The House is expected to vote as soon as this week on nearly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine. Members will also vote on a measure allowing congressional staff to form unions. A full list of bills the House could consider this week is available here.
The Senate is expected to bring up a bill to codify abortion rights, although it does not have enough support to pass.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Scott Berrier are appearing before a Senate panel this morning for an annual hearing on worldwide threats. Information and video here.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is testifying before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee this morning on an annual financial stability report. Information and video here.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will testify before a House Appropriations subcommittee this afternoon on his department’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year. Information and livestream here.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will appear before House appropriators Wednesday morning to examine the department’s fiscal year 2023 funding request. Information and livestream here.
Lawrence Tabak, acting director of the National Institutes of Health, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will appear alongside other administration officials Wednesday morning for a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on NIH funding for fiscal year 2023. Information and livestream here.
Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will meet Wednesday afternoon for a hearing on Russian war crimes in Ukraine. Information and livestream here.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will meet Wednesday afternoon for a hearing on Space Force programs and funding needs in the coming year. Information and livestream here.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus will appear before appropriators Wednesday afternoon to discuss budget needs in the coming year. Information and livestream here.