U.S. Senate Wants Improved Indo-Pacific Ties, Reintroduces ECON Act

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats urge Washington to commit more diplomatic and security resources to the Indo-Pacific to counter Chinese influence in the region. The committee issued a report almost a year after the Biden administration released its strategy to modernize alliances in the region, strengthen emerging partnerships and invest in relationships. Meanwhile, one of the committee’s Republican members, Senator Risch, has reintroduced the Economic and Commercial Opportunities and Networks (ECON) Act, which aims to strengthen economic and commercial diplomacy.

“If we are serious about advancing U.S. interests in Asia and competing with (China), we must match ambitious policy with ambitious resourcing,” Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Democratic Senator Menendez said in a statement.

The Senate report gives recommendations as to how the U.S. government should sharpen the aims of the strategy and do more to ensure there are enough resources available to back up its efforts.

“Despite four successive administrations identifying Asia as a priority region for U.S. attention and assistance, none have made the necessary tradeoffs to ensure that sources are allocated in a manner commensurate with such prioritization,” the committee report said.

The report underlined that the administration’s foreign assistance request for the region in the fiscal year ending in September 2023 was $1.7 billion, or only 7.7% of the overall foreign assistance budget, although more than half of the world’s population lives in the Indo-Pacific region.

The United States is trying to reassert itself in the region after a period of uncertainty about its commitment to Asia under Trump, and concerted efforts by rival China to boost its own influence.

The report urged the administration to significantly increase finances for diplomacy and development across the U.S. government and set a larger portion of the State Department budget for the Indo-Pacific region.

A bipartisan demand for a hard line in dealings with Beijing has been one of the few policy articles both parties agree upon, with both Republicans and Democrats calling for increased efforts to counteract China’s global influence.

Republican U.S. Senator Risch, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, reintroduced the ECON Act to strengthen economic and commercial ties in the region.

“With competitors like China posing risks here at home and abroad, it’s essential we have the right strategy and tools to strengthen the U.S. economy and advance our economic partnerships with allies and partners,” said Risch. “I’m proud to reintroduce the ECON Act to bolster the United States’ ability to support strong economic and commercial diplomacy.”

Since the U.S. has shot down a Chinese spy ballon over U.S. territory, the relations between the two countries have further strained. Secretary of State Blinken canceled a scheduled trip to China after the incident.

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