A new bipartisan bill (H.R. 5580) introduced on October 15 in the U.S. House of Representatives by Ami Bera (D-CA), Ann Wagner (R-MO), and five co-sponsors would establish an interagency task force "to respond to People’s Republic of China coercive economic measures." The task force will submit a series of reports to Congress over a period of several years that analyze these measures and their costs to U.S. businesses, areas of vulnerability for U.S. businesses and the businesses of U.S. allies, and recommendations on how to counter them. In the shorter term it would also make available via a public website a list of recent cases of these measures, with regular updates.

The bill, called the "Countering China Economic Coercion Act," defines "coercive economic measures" as including "formal or informal restrictions or conditions, such as on trade, investment, development aid, and financial flows, intended to impose economic costs on a non-People’s Republic of China target in order to achieve strategic political objectives, including influence over the policy decisions of a foreign government, company, organization, or individual."

At the outset, the bill sets forth a number of "findings," as follows.

First, it says that the Chinese government "has used coercive economic measures against governments, businesses, organizations, other entities, and individuals to punish them for acting in ways the Government of the PRC sees as challenging PRC interests, and to pressure or otherwise influence them to offer policy concessions to the PRC."

Second, it references both informal and formal aspects of these measures. With regard to informal aspects, it says that "[i]n an apparent effort to provide itself more plausible deniability and greater policy flexibility, the PRC often does not formally link a foreign policy dispute or grievance to the coercive measure it uses, opting for informal or extralegal measures rather than formal, published financial sanctions, trade controls, or investment restrictions." On the other hand, it then says that "[t]he PRC has also increasingly sought to formalize some of its coercive economic measures through laws and measures that include strengthening its export control regime through the enactment of a new Export Control Law and creation of an Unreliable Entities List."

Finally, it provides a number of examples of China's coercive economic measures, including "halted shipments of rare earth elements to Japan during a standoff over a clash between the Japan Coast Guard and a Chinese fishing vessel," and "blocked banana imports from the Philippines ... and warned Chinese tourists against visiting the Philippines in response to a standoff over disputed 18 Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea."

The bill then sets out the "sense of Congress" that China's  "increasing use of economic coercion against foreign governments, companies, organizations, other entities, and individuals requires that the United States better understand these measures in order to devise a comprehensive, effective, and multilateral response"; that "additional business transparency would help the United States Government and private sector stakeholders conduct early assessments of potential pressure points and vulnerabilities"; and that these coercive economic measure create "pressures for the private sector to behave in ways antithetical to United States national interests and competitiveness."

To address these issues, the bill states that "[n]ot later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall establish an interagency task force to be known as the  'Countering Economic Coercion Task Force.'" The task force will be led by staff of the National Security Council as the chair and staff of the National Economic Council as the vice chair. Other task force members will come from the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, Justice and Agriculture, and USTR, National Intelligence, SEC, and IDFC, as well as others, at the level of Assistant Secretary or above.

Under the bill, the task force has a number of duties.

First, it will "oversee the development and implementation of an integrated United States Government strategy to respond to People’s Republic of China (PRC) coercive economic measures," including "systematically monitoring and evaluating" ... "the costs of such measures on United States businesses and overall United States economic performance" and "instances in which such measures taken against a non-PRC entity has benefitted United States parties" and "the impacts such measures have had on United States national interests," and "facilitating coordination among Federal departments and agencies when responding to such measures as well as proactively deterring such economic coercion."

Second, it will "consult with United States allies and partners on the feasibility and desirability of collectively identifying, assessing, and responding to PRC coercive economic measures, as well as actions that could be taken to expand coordination."

Third, it will "effectively engage the United States private sector, particularly sectors, groups, or other entities that are susceptible to such PRC coercive economic measures, on concerns related to such measures."

And fourth, it will "develop and implement a process for regularly sharing relevant information, including classified information to the extent appropriate and practicable, on such PRC coercive economic measures with United States allies, partners, and the private sector."

The bill provides that the task force is required to submit a series of reports to Congress over a period of several years. These reports are to include the following elements:

  • "A comprehensive review of the array of economic tools the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) employs or could employ in the future to coerce other governments, non-PRC companies (including United States companies), and multilateral institutions and organizations, including the Government of PRC’s continued efforts to codify informal practices into its domestic law."
  • An integrated U.S. government strategy to respond to the coercive economic measures.
  • "An interagency definition of PRC coercive economic measures that captures both— (i) the use of informal or extralegal PRC coercive economic measures; and (ii) the illegitimate use of formal economic tools."
  • "A comprehensive review of the array of economic and diplomatic tools the United States Government employs or could employ to respond to economic coercion against the United States and United States allies and partners."
  • "A list of unilateral or multilateral—(i) proactive measures to defend or deter against PRC coercive economic measures; and (ii) actions taken in response to the Government of the PRC’s general use of coercive economic measures."
  • "An assessment of areas in which United States allies and partners are vulnerable to PRC coercive economic measures."
  • "A description of gaps in existing resources or capabilities for United States Government departments and agencies to respond effectively to PRC coercive economic measures directed at United States entities and assist United States allies and partners in their responses to PRC coercive economic measures."