Chuck Schumer wants to pump up Cold War with China — at the planet's expense

Senate's top Democrat unveils a $250B "innovation" bill that feels more like a dying empire's next-to-last gasp

Published June 3, 2021 5:40AM (EDT)

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Despite an existential climate crisis, Senator Chuck Schumer's $250 billion "United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021" takes aim at China as the most pressing national security threat. In a Cold War-style declaration, the Senate Majority Leader's  proposed legislation reads like the last gasp of a dying empire, a plea from a panicked superpower losing its grip on global dominance.

Schumer's laborious 1,445-page bill, the product of six Senate committees, would have the U.S. compete with China by creating tech hubs of robotics and artificial intelligence in U.S. cities, promoting school programs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), accelerating production of semiconductor chips and spending $600 million to ramp up U.S. military presence in the South China Sea to show China the U.S. still rules the world.

Collaborate with China to thwart climate catastrophe? That would be heresy.

In a less xenophobic United States, a more visionary blueprint would emerge for collective technological development to save our warming planet.

In a more visionary blueprint, the U.S. Congress might support or even expand on the U.S.-China climate agreement negotiated by climate envoy John Kerry prior to the Biden administration's world Earth Day summit last April. An added section to Schumer's marathon read might underscore the diplomatic agreement's goals of strengthening implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and developing long-term strategies to achieve carbon neutrality.

Instead, the bill undermines Kerry's negotiated agreement with China, sabotaging an opportunity for the U.S. and China — countries responsible for releasing half of the world's fossil fuel emissions — to partner on curbing emissions and sharing strategies for greening the Earth. 

A person reading this manifesto of China hate would never know that China, home to 1.4 billion people and the world's largest exporter, owns over $1 trillion of U.S. debt that could be called in at any moment, sending demand for the U.S. dollar plummeting and slowing our economy to a crawl.

Ignoring the U.S. and China's economic enmeshment, the bill opposes international bank loans to China for its 70-country Belt and Road Initiative to build highways, ports, railroad tunnels and other infrastructure connecting Asia with Europe and Africa; vows to weaken the influence of China and Russia at the UN; and withholds grant money to U.S. colleges and universities that partner with Chinese government-funded "Confucius Institutes" to teach Chinese language and culture.

In a throwback to McCarthyism, the bill also mandates a Comptroller report on the activities of U.S. Sister City participants who partner with countries like China that fell below a 2019 score of 45 out of a possible 100 on the Corruption Perceptions Index. This is a data tool funded by Western nations and ExxonMobil to measure transparency, accountability and integrity in government. China scored a 41, Saudi Arabia a 53.

Ironically, New York, the state Schumer represents, has several municipalities listed on Wikipedia as partnering with sister cities in China: New York City with Beijing, Mount Vernon with Yangquan, Brooklyn with Yiwu, Port Chester with Jingzhou and Rochester with Xianyang. 

Schumer's proposed legislation, a potential bipartisan win according to the gleeful Senate leader, only references the climate crisis in the context of advancing U.S. strategic interests in Asia and the South Pacific to beat back the "Leninist model of governance — socialism with Chinese characteristics." For example, the bill pushes for increasing Peace Corps volunteers to develop climate resiliency in Oceania, a region that includes Australia, Micronesia and Polynesia, to avoid islands throughout the South Pacific turning to China for assistance.

The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 threatens to exacerbate the climate crisis by expanding the reach of the Pentagon, the world's largest consumer of oil and emitter of greenhouse gases. It calls for increased forward-basing U.S. troop deployments in the South China Sea, development of more "combat credible forces," additional shipments of missiles and other weapons to allies in the Indo-Pacific and stepped up joint U.S.-allies military exercises, a euphemism for mock nuclear strikes — all in the name of deterrence.

In addition, the bill challenges China's long-held desire for reunification with Taiwan by prioritizing the defense of Taiwan sovereignty, an issue that once brought the U.S. to the brink of nuclear war. According to classified documents recently released by former CIA analyst Daniel Ellsberg, 1950s Pentagon planners were willing to sacrifice a million U.S. lives in a first nuclear strike on China that could have triggered Soviet retaliation. In keeping with President Biden's record high $753 billion military budget that reflects a pivot from the Middle East to Asia, Schumer's legislation asserts that China's presence in the Indo-Pacific "presents a substantial and imminent risk to the security of the United States."

While undermining the potential for U.S.-China collaboration on climate, the bill depicts China as the No. 1 global military threat — even though it is the U.S. that has over 800 overseas bases, 400 of them encircling China, compared to China's one overseas base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa.

As the article "More of the same: Biden's hybrid war against China" makes clear, it is the U.S., not China, that has engaged in combat in more than 60 countries since the late 1970s. China has not engaged in a war since Vietnam. Additionally, it is the U.S. that has 3,800 nuclear warheads, in contrast to China's estimated 350. On the subject of nuclear weapons, the bill accuses China of violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in its arsenal expansion, while falsely asserting that the U.S. honors its treaty obligations to pursue disarmament. 

In reality, the United States is moving ahead, with Biden's blessing, on a nearly $2 trillion decades-long nuclear rearmament plan. This includes replacing 400 Minuteman III ICBMs on high alert in underground silos in Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado with 600 new nuclear missiles also on hair-trigger alert, and developing new nuclear warheads.

In condemnation of China's alleged human rights abuses, including reports of forced labor and internment camps for the Muslim minority Uighurs, the bill mandates a U.S. diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and bars the use of federal funds to pay for federal government employees to attend the games.

It's one thing to legislate a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics or, as the bill outlines, ban ByteDance's TikTok on federal devices, but quite another to provoke a military confrontation in the South China Sea, where a U.S. warship recently sailed through the Taiwan Strait over China's objections, putting "peace and security at risk," in the words of the Chinese.

Before Schumer uncorks the champagne to celebrate bipartisan militarism, he and his congressional cohorts should remove from the bill the "International Security Matters" section which sets the U.S. on a war footing with China. 

Moreover, a new section should be added to cement the U.S.-China bilateral climate agreement Kerry negotiated to strengthen implementation of the Paris Accords. 

Members of Congress must demand that U.S. innovation in semiconductors, as well as Moon and Mars exploration, not ride on economic and military superiority to China. In addition, they should take a scalpel to those sections that sabotage academic, financial and Sister City partnerships that could, through people-to-people diplomacy, help save the planet from warming temperatures, rising tides, extreme weather, famine and desperate refugee migration.

By Marcy Winograd

Marcy Winograd is the Coordinator of CODEPINK Congress and co-chair of the foreign policy team for Progressive Democrats of America.

MORE FROM Marcy Winograd

By Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin is co-founder of CODEPINK for Peace and author of several books, including "Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran." She and Nicolas J.S. Davies are the authors of "War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict."

MORE FROM Medea Benjamin

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

China Chuck Schumer Climate Change Climate Crisis Cold War Commentary Democrats Foreign Policy