The EAGLE Act: an Anti-China Bill

Peace Advocate September-October 2021

Congress and China. Cartoon by Andrew Flaherty/MAPA

by Drew Baldwin

There are few things Congress agrees upon. China, however, is one of them.  In July, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the “Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement” or EAGLE Act (H.R. 3524), led by committee chair Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY).  The EAGLE Act is similar to the 2,376-page “United States Innovation and Competition Act,” which passed the Senate in June after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer combined several different anti-China bills into one.  Its stated purpose is to “revitalize and reassert United States leadership, investment, and engagement in the Indo-Pacific region and globally.” 

On the surface, both bills are aimed at reinforcing US commitment to diplomacy and human rights through bi- and trilateral engagement and an increase in human and financial resources devoted to the region.  But despite the bipartisan support for both bills, the bottom line is this: both the Innovation and Competition Act and the EAGLE Act make war with China more likely. Here’s why:

The foreign affairs component of the Senate bill, previously called the Strategic Competition Act (S. 1169) is, at the most basic level, a declaration of a New Cold War with China. As the Committee for a Sane U.S.-China Policy wrote in May, the bill “supports a military approach that will fuel a destabilizing nuclear and conventional arms race in Asia.” According to the U.S. Foreign Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the bill assures that the U.S. will be positioned to compete with China “across all dimensions of national and international power for decades to come.” In his speech that unveiled the legislation, Senate Foreign Relations chair Robert Menendez said that the bill demands a “unified, strategic response that can rebuild American leadership, invest in our ability to out-compete China, and reground diplomacy in our core values.” Out-competing China, in this case, means mischaracterizing China as the greatest threat facing the U.S., meddling in U.S.-Taiwanese relations, and fear-mongering by stirring xenophobia and racism towards Chinese students and scholars. To many progressives, it is clear that the Innovation and Competition Act will only exacerbate tensions between the U.S. and China, adding more ammunition to the Cold War with China. This clarity, however, might lead some to believe that they are left with only one other choice: to support the EAGLE Act, which is supported by House Democrats while Republicans favor an even more stringent bill.

House Foreign Affairs chairman Gregory W. Meeks. Ken Cedeno/Pool via REUTERS
Chairman Rep. Gregory W. Meeks looks on as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Biden Administration’s Priorities for U.S. Foreign Policy, March 10, 2021. Ken Cedeno/Pool via REUTERS

While most media coverage of the EAGLE Act points to its call for diplomacy, global cooperation and bilateral work on climate change, its central tenets commit to appropriating more than $7 billion to military contractors and $225 million to military training in the Asia-Pacific region. Its content was largely inspired and built off of the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018, which was put forth by the Trump administration and set new U.S. priorities in the Indo-Pacific. Within the first five pages of the EAGLE Act, Congress points to the People’s Republic of China’s “authoritarian governance model at home” and claims that the PRC views its model of governance as superior to that of the U.S. and other self-proclaimed democracies. House Foreign Affairs also claimed that China’s model of the international order ultimately rejects internationally recognized human rights (p. 9). Fallacious statements like these are deliberate efforts to arouse fear.  Seeking to deepen the U.S.-Taiwan military relationship, the EAGLE Act urges Taiwan to increase its own defense spending and commits to conducting regular transfers of defense articles to Taiwan (p. 23). The sale of arms to Taiwan is sure to intensify already tense relations. 

Both bills — Innovation and Competition Act and EAGLE Act — bring the U.S. even closer to war with China. The EAGLE Act not only allocates billions of our tax dollars to fund more protracted, foreign wars, but also begins the process of preparation for war as it physically and verbally communicates its support for Taiwan against China. MAPA urges you to write to your representatives and ask them to vote no on the EAGLE Act, as it does make our country, and our world, a more threatening place. 

— Drew Baldwin is co-chair of MAPA’s No Cold War group and is an international affairs major at Northeastern University