China products might no longer be sold at military base stores, known as exchanges, worldwide as Rep. Mark Green (R-TN-7), member of the House Armed Services Committee, successfully managed to get his amendment into the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week.
“We cannot in good conscious continue to sell products on military bases made by slave labor and benefiting the authoritarian regime of the CCP,” Congressman Green said in his introduction to his amendment. “As the CCP attempts to build its military war machine and encroaches on our allies’ sovereign territory, the last thing we want to do is contribute financially. Our lack of restrictions on trade has led the CCP to believe they can steal our technology without consequences,” he said, in relation to the Section 301 trade tariffs imposed in 2018 on some $300 billion of imports from China. “We need to demonstrate that there are consequences to their actions and removing Chinese products from our military exchanges is one step we can take to reduce the flow of U.S. dollars into China.”
Although this amendment passed, it is always eye-opening to see who stands in opposition. And what they give as the reasons for their no votes.
Chairman of the Committee, Adam Smith (D-WA-9) opposed it. He called it “unworkable” and said the World Trade Organization would oppose it.
“I understand the sentiment behind this, but it is very unworkable. There is simply no way that we can not sell anything that is made in China,” Chairman Smith said. “We buy a lot of stuff from China. There is no way you can stop it and turn that off. Also, it is a clear violation of the WTO to ban the sale of these products. China and the U.S. economies are very co-dependent. We have to recognize that.”
Democrats were the main vocal opposition.
Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24), who has a picture of himself shaking hands with elderly war veterans on his website, said it would cost military families too much to buy things not made in China. “It sounds very patriotic, but it would have an adverse effect on our military families. We would make them go out into the civilian world to pay (higher prices),” he said.
Rep. Green’s amendment would only ban China-made goods from the exchanges.
Rep. Kaiali’i Kahele (D-HI-2), whose website depicts the Congressman addressing soldiers in masks outside of the House of Representatives also made the price argument. “I’ve been shopping at the exchanges since 1999. To remove such large numbers of products would negatively affect military families who depend on this benefit to purchase everyday household items at significant cost savings that are not experienced off base,” he said, in yet another example of why pulling the U.S. away from China supply chains is so hard. “I’m all about buying American-made, but I’ll be opposing this amendment.”
Still, enough Democrats agreed with the Green amendment to put it into the bill.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA-14): “Weening ourselves off China is a good thing. Safer products are made in the U.S. We have a gift shop in the House and the only items in the gift shop are made in America. You can incentivize smaller businesses here to make what you need.”
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-8): “We need to ween ourselves off these products and the military exchanges are a good place to start. I’m supporting this.”
Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL-6): “We have to stop funding our adversaries. Multiple administrations have said this is our greatest adversary and many on this committee have said that this is the first adversary that could likely defeat us on the world stage. But time and time again we say, ‘no it’s too hard, it’s too expensive.’ We are here to fund the military while spending money that goes into the country we are trying to defend against. It’s not hard to build our shelves in our exchanges with U.S.-made goods. Let’s stop talking about it, and let’s do it. If the Department of Defense needs to lead the way, then let’s do it. When it comes to national security, we have to put our money where our mouth is.”
The supporters of this amendment by Rep. Green got it right. The debate in the committee on this amendment addresses a microcosm of our economy and the broader debate we are beginning to see happening in Washington when it comes to Department of Defense (DoD) procurement. Reliance on Made in China goods is not good for America – service members, military families, or anyone.
While it might cost more and make things more complicated for a little while, in the long-term, weening the U.S. off cheap Chinese goods is best and can be an incentive for creating other sources of production domestically, or one that is not the victim of IP theft or subject to geopolitical hot button issues such as human rights in Xinjiang.
Relying on other goods outside of China increases the DoD’s ability to access products with U.S.-style environmental standards in manufacturing, and create a more reliable and sustainable supply chain that is less dependent on America’s strategic rival.
Beyond the Green amendment, the NDAA bill takes a woefully overdue but urgent step toward banning the procurement of Chinese-made military items by DoD. This includes munitions and critical minerals, such as rare earths used in specialty magnets.
The Committee adopted an amendment put forward by Rep. Waltz, as well. His amendment would expand sourcing prohibitions for Chinese military companies; revives a defunct ban on DoD procuring items on the U.S. Munitions List (USML) from Chinese military companies and expands the ban to include dual-use items on the Commerce Control List (CCL) which contain rare earth elements and covered critical minerals.
A press statement from Rep. Waltz stated that the bill will, “expand the Defense Department’s stockpile of rare-earth elements and critical minerals, requires country of origin disclosures and bans purchase of critical materials from Chinese military companies.”
CPA supports Congress banning the Pentagon and our national security apparatus from procuring anything from China or other adversaries. Relying on an adversary – regardless of for civilian or military equipment – is unwise and puts our own readiness at risk. DOD and other national security players must study and know our supply chains and have plans to increase resilience and pursue reliable alternatives. CPA also encourages a permanent ban on the entire U.S. Government procurement system from purchasing anything made in China – or giving out U.S. tax credits as subsidies for Chinese produced commodities.
In a statement on Thursday, Chairman Smith said, “This Committee has once again delivered a result that, for whatever our disagreements may be, ultimately does right by service members, civilians, and their families – the heart of our country’s defense.”
CPA National Security Advisor, Robby Smith Saunders contributed to this report. She also attended the Committee hearing.