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Lawmaker Demands Info on State Dept. Reported Pushback on China Sanctions, Export Controls

The State Department needs to answer for media reports that it “held back” human rights sanctions and export controls on China following the U.S. discovery of a Chinese reconnaissance balloon in American airspace earlier this year (see 2302100072), said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas. McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, cited a recent Reuters report that said the State Department was trying to “limit damage to the U.S.-China relationship” and pushed back on new trade restrictions.

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“The Department’s continued weakness and passivity in the face of [People’s Republic of China’s] aggression is deeply troubling and raises serious doubts about Department leaders’ willingness and ability to effectively respond to the PRC’s growing aggression,” McCaul said in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken released this week.

He added that reports of the State Department “impeding ‘competitive actions’ including sanctions and export controls toward” Chinese entities are “consistent with information received by the Committee in recent months.” Although Congress has “empowered the executive branch with national security tools such as sanctions and export controls for the express purpose of protecting U.S. national security and foreign policy interests,” the State Department “apparently refuses to implement them.”

McCaul asked the agency to provide him with all “documents and communications referring or relating to competitive actions,” including export controls and sanctions against China since Oct. 1, involving Blinken, Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman and others. He also asked for other documents “used in preparation for or resulting from” National Security Council Tech Small Group meetings and information on staff departures from the State Department’s Office of China Coordination, which is responsible for coordinating and implementing U.S. policy toward China.

“For the U.S. to succeed in its strategic competition with the PRC,” McCaul said, “it is essential that it be willing to unflinchingly hold the PRC accountable for its aggression and malfeasance, and that it be well-organized and effective in doing so.”

A State Department spokesperson said May 24 the agency has "coordinated" with other government agencies "on a record-setting number of sanctions, export controls, and other competitive actions with respect to" China. "Without commenting on specific actions, this work is sensitive and complex, and obviously sequencing is essential to maximize impact and make sure our messaging is clear and lands precisely."