Congress

In this Jan. 9 file photo, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., flanked by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters following a weekly, closed-door strategy session, at the Capitol in Washington.

The U.S. Senate this week approved legislation co-authored by Colorado's U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner that seeks to counter Chinese dominance in the Asia Pacific region.

The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) is a wide-reaching bill intended to guide U.S. strategy in the Asia Pacific, particularly regarding trade and military competition with China. It renews the possibility of arms sales to Taiwan.

It would provide more than $1.5 billion a year to the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Pentagon over five years.

“ARIA provides the U.S. a whole-of-government, long-term strategy in Asia that advances American national security interests, promotes American businesses, and creates jobs through trade opportunities and projects American values of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Gardner a Republican, said in a statement.

Gardner is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy. His 59-page legislation has won support from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

The bill is short on details about how the money would be split among participating agencies. Instead, it focuses more on the policy that would determine how it is spent.

It requires spending to boost the self-defense of allies who might be subject to “coercion” and “destabilizing activities” from China, as well as from North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs. The allies include South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Other funding is earmarked for counter-terrorism against Islamic State’s influence in Southeast Asia.

“The United States has always been, and will always remain, a Pacific power, and this legislation ensures that the United States government will speak in one voice to reassure our allies and to deter our adversaries in the Indo-Pacific region,” Gardner said.

Senate passage of ARIA follows five subcommittee hearings this year chaired by Gardner. The testimony covered U.S. security challenges in the Asia Pacific region, economic opportunities, human rights, relations with China, and Trump administration policies.

A companion bill is pending in the House of Representatives, where its sponsors say the Senate’s approval gives the proposed legislation greater chances of success.

Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat who co-authored the Senate bill, said the human rights ARIA seeks to promote could help bring more political stability to the region.

“The rules-based international order is absolutely fundamental to global peace and security,” Markey said. “But Asia, arguably the most consequential region for the United States, faces critical challenges — such as nonproliferation, human rights and respect for democratic values — and needs the resources to match that importance.”

The ARIA legislation anticipates ongoing conflicts with China at a time President Donald Trump is waging a trade war with the Asian economic powerhouse. The New York Stock Exchange plummeted 799 points in one day this week amid continuing fears Trump’s efforts to end back-and-forth tariffs between the two countries will fail.

The United States also blames China for aggressive moves that include pressuring other Asian countries to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which the Chinese claim as part of their territory. In addition, China has tried to prevent foreign aircraft from entering South China Sea airspace that it claims but that is not recognized internationally.

ARIA would set a policy of “regular freedom of navigation and overflight operations in the Indo-Pacific region” to defy China’s contested claims to the airspace and waters near its shores.

Other provisions of the legislation seek:

  • Cybersecurity cooperation with Asian allies;
  • Policies that pursue arms control and nuclear nonproliferation, such as with North Korea;
  • Penalties on organizations and governments that participate in theft of U.S. intellectual property;
  • A comprehensive policy to promote U.S. energy exports to Asia;
  • Trade negotiations with Asian Pacific countries to promote a variety of U.S. exports.

The human rights portion of ARIA allocates $150 million a year for programs such as a freedom of information campaign for North Korea and efforts to combat human trafficking. It also authorizes sanctions against nations or entities found to be human rights abusers.

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