China Hawks in Congress See an Opportunity in Coronavirus

Even before the coronavirus pandemic emerged, Washington had made a series of aggressive moves in its competition with Beijing. But the severity of the virus has in recent weeks forced government officials worldwide to grapple with their approach to China across many fronts.

Like lawmakers, some Trump administration officials have used the crisis to fuel their push to encourage American manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and reduce dependence on China for the drugs and medical products that fuel the domestic health care system. The White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, a longtime China hawk, has pressed to tighten “Buy American” laws and end exceptions allowing the government to purchase medical products from other countries.

United States military officials last week called on Congress to authorize additional funding to bolster deterrence against China, a sign that many in the military expected tensions between the two nations to grow. In Japan, officials have earmarked money to help its manufacturers move production out of China in an effort to offset the disruption caused by the virus and curtail their reliance on the nation.

“We would really be missing an opportunity — and frankly it would simply be a failure of leadership — if we did not take this present crisis and say, ‘Now it’s time to do something about this,’” Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, said in an interview.

Mr. Hawley last week released a three-page memo outlining policies he said should be included in the next economic stimulus package to loosen China’s hold on the global supply chain. His proposal would require that manufacturers begin to use more materials from domestic suppliers, impose crisis export controls on critical American-made equipment like ventilators, and provide investment subsidies to manufacturers to encourage them to bring their production back to the United States.

“We need to put American workers in position to surge out of this,” he said.

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, who said the Chinese government must be held accountable for its role in the spread of the virus, has unveiled legislation that would allow Congress to impose sanctions on government officials who perform “acts intended to deliberately conceal or distort information about a public health emergency of international concern” such as the virus. It is modeled after the Global Magnitsky Act, a law designed to punish individuals around the world who are accused of human rights violations or corruption.

Mr. Cotton, a hawk and one of the first lawmakers to warn of the dire effect the virus could have on the United States, is among the most vocal proponents of adopting a more adversarial relationship with China. He has also called for Congress to withhold funding from the World Health Organization, which has come under fire for what critics call its repeated deference to Beijing.

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