Tense Exchange In House Armed Services Over China Olympics

It might sound like it has nothing to do with the military, but Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL-6) made it that way.

Earlier this month, the House Armed Services Committee did a markup session of all the amendments going into the annual National Defense Authorization Act  to fund the military and to define military programs for fiscal year 2022.  Waltz presented two amendments, Log. No. 680 and 681. The first would prohibit the sales of products of the sponsors of the Beijing Winter Olympics on military bases until a sponsor terminated their sponsorship, or until September 2025. Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, and Visa would somehow be banned on bases if the amendment passed.

The second banned anyone from flying on a military plane to the Olympics. This mostly means that President Biden – were he to attend the Games – could not use Air Force One to fly to Beijing. This would also apply to any diplomatic corps or administration officials who would need military aircraft to safely travel to the Winter Games. The point of Log. No. 681 was to stop high-ranking White House officials from going to the Games.

The first amendment lost, the second one won.

The debate often centered on how the Waltz amendments would impact athletes, though there was nothing in either amendment to suggest that they would.

You can watch that debate here. It begins at roughly 4:48:20 and ends at 5:25:23.Waltz Round One: A Big Disagreement

“We’ve all heard many of these corporations talk about their moral responsibility and speak out on social and political issues in the past year and I think we have to ask ourselves: where is their responsibility now when addressing the Chinese Communist party’s gross violation of human rights?” Waltz said. “We cannot, and the world cannot, continue to legitimize the CCPs act of genocide…(and reward them for their) dangerous suppression of information about the outbreak in Wuhan that cost so many lives. By financially supporting the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, American and global corporations are implicit in whitewashing these offenses.”

He held up a sign with corporate logos on them, calling them “sponsors of the 2022 Genocide Olympics” – a term he would use again in representing his second amendment.

The crux of Waltz’s argument, in both instances, was that Congress can no longer “turn a blind eye and stand by” while corporations pump billions into the CCP. “They help fund the military buildup that this committee is concerned about. This is how China wins.”

Everyone who spoke on the Committee expressed that they were not fans of the CCP, but Waltz’s presentation of the first amendment had many members conflating it with hurting athletes, or forcing companies to vacate an Olympic sponsorship they’ve had for generations, even prior to the knowledge that Beijing would hold them next year.

The amendment would have punished Coca-Cola, for example, from selling goods on bases, something the Military Family Association said would require them to “bear the burden” of the boycott.

Chairman Adam Smith opposed Log 680 immediately.  Smith would later go on to support Log 681, however.

Rep: Salud Carbajal: I have serious concerns about the amendment because it bans these companies from selling to U.S. military and will be a boycott of American companies. Intel is a sponsor. This would prevent us from doing business with Intel. Why undercut the American industrial base? It just eliminates access to American products. I agree human rights should be a bigger part of our strategy towards China, but targeting these companies is not a way to adequately address those concerns.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO-5) said a diplomatic boycott is a better idea.

Rep. Lamborn:  I agree, let’s go after the Chinese Communist Party. There is a call in the Senate for a diplomatic boycott and there is a bill pending in the Foreign Affairs Committee here in the House calling for the same. Let’s do that. That would be a great way to go after what I think Rep. Waltz is really after here. This is a case of aiming your gun at the CCP and hitting an innocent bystander, in this case American companies and military families living on base.

Rep. James Langevin (D-RI-2) agreed with Colorado Republican Lamborn and said, “I am looking at pursuing that option right now.”

It is unclear if that means it’s a done deal, or if these bills will languish in the house. It is also unclear if these bills even have to be signed by the President, or if the diplomatic corps can just make a value judgment collectively and not go to the Beijing Olympics. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will discuss this issue on Wednesday, September 22.

Those who spoke up said American companies were too enmeshed with the CCP.

Rep. Austin Scott: The goal is to get these companies to stop supporting a country that engages in human rights abuses and that is not going to stop as long as corporate America supports things like the Beijing Olympics.

Rep. Mike Gallagher: By the way, China is lying about their Covid numbers and we’re going to send our athletes there in less than five months. There is a host of concerns. There is no painless way to economically decouple from China, but that is what we must do.

Rep. Donald Norcross: Look in the back of your shirt and see where it was made. Look at your iPhone. I’d pay attention to those things. Stop buying Chinese products. It’s that simple.

In a roll call vote later in the day, the Waltz product ban amendment lost with only 22 in favor of getting Coke Zero off base, and 36 against voted against.

Langevin, who voted in favor of Buy America Act provisions earlier in the markup while Waltz had voted against, said that, “China is surely committing genocide and many other human rights abuses and will likely exploit next year’s Olympics as a symbol of Chinese promotion of peace and unity. We should condemn them for doing so.”

Rep. Waltz: This is a moment in history where we could or couldn’t have supported the games as a symbol of our values and our way of life. No one had issue with pulling sponsorship for the Olympic games in South Africa during Apartheid. We are going to regret not taking a stand.

CPA believes Congress is united in their concern for China, but within varying degrees of concern. The speed at which they are willing to go after China or enact policies to protect the home market from China predation is often a day late.

While that has nothing to do with the Olympics, there needs to be more of a “the time is now” attitude in Washington in both parties, and this was at the core of Waltz’s argument as well. If not, the onslaught Congress (and their constituents) will face from lobbying firms working with China clients and from our own multinational corporations who work daily to persuade them in favor of standing down in hopes to return to pre-trade war times comes at the detriment of American manufacturers.

Waltz Round Two: Decoupling Bad?

Waltz’s Log No. 681 got some pushback.sdffsdfs

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL-7) brought up the athletes again. She was the one who posited that former members of the military compete in the Paralympic Games and enlisted officers, others, would not be able to go see them if this amendment passes. That is not true. They can still go see them. They just have to fly commercial.

Rep. Waltz: We have requested for years that the IOC move the games, but the IOC has now put athletes in a position where they have to choose their values versus their ability to compete and do what they love. I wonder if the U.S. was imprisoning a million Muslims with mass torture and mass rape and forced abortions, forced sterilization, I wonder if those athletes would want to compete here. The least we can do is not condone that behavior by sending American officials there, and the second least thing we can do is not spend taxpayer dollars to fly them there. What the CCP cares about the most is the money, and they are using that money, our money, to fund all these activities, including their military buildup.

After Waltz said that, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA-3), who sat out the first amendment, couldn’t hold his fire. He recalled the time when Rep. Maxine Waters stood alone in opposition on The Hill to Apartheid. She went at it for around five years, he recalled, and it later led to a worldwide boycott of South Africa and ultimately the end of officially sanctioned segregation there.

But the final curtain on the NDAA Olympic amendments belonged to Chairman Smith. While Smith voted numerous times throughout the day in favor of Buy America rules for defense contracts, and voted in favor of Waltz’s version of the “no-fly zone”, his creed on decoupling shines a spotlight on the way many members of Congress think about U.S. China engagement.

It is views like this that make that engagement more apt to be led by the likes of BlackRock and Walmart, than the real interests of American labor, and those employed by manufacturing companies serving the needs of larger entities, including the likes of Walmart. Comments like that make us think that Chairman Smith wants to have his cake and eat too when it comes to China.




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