A Conversation With Representative Ami Bera

Friday, January 21, 2022
Sputnik/Ramil Sitdikov/Kremlin via REUTERS

U.S. Representative from California (D); Chairman, House Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation; CFR Member


Anchor and Chief National Security Correspondent, CNN; CFR Member

Representative Ami Bera discusses Congressional views on U.S. policies toward the Indo-Pacific, including the unfolding situations in Afghanistan and Myanmar, U.S. engagement with regional actors, as well as other foreign policy priorities in the region for the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

SCIUTTO: Thanks so much. Thanks to all of you for joining, and in particular thanks to Congressman Bera for taking the time today, particularly given his role as chair of the House Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation. China and all the many issues facing this country and others in Asia, a great interest of his—the congressman’s. Also mine, going back to my colleague days and many years living and working over there. So I appreciate this opportunity. Thank you, Congressman.

BERA: Jim, thanks for presiding over this. And certainly, want to thank the Council for hosting. And, as you said, Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, nonproliferation—I feel like I’ve got the most interesting subcommittee in Congress right now. It’s certainly not boring.

SCIUTTO: For sure. Interesting and crucial, let’s be frank. I want to begin with the big picture, if I can. You’ve spoken very frankly about how the U.S. and China potentially face a rocky future. As you know, there are some—not just limited to those in the national security world, but others—who look at conflict between the U.S. and China as, sadly, inevitable. I wonder if you agree. And if it’s not inevitable, what then are the ways to avoid it? What needs to be done today to avoid that outcome?

BERA: Yeah. I think that’s the seminal question. I don’t think it’s inevitable. Certainly, competition between the United States and China, competition of ideas, because—now, we don’t have to guess the direction that Xi Jinping is taking China, and where he wants to take China. I mean, he’s very frank in his vision of where he sees China in the twenty-first century. So we don’t have to guess that. And some of those views and values conflict with our democratic views and values, and kind of the rule of law. So, you know, with that as the chessboard and the framework, how do we avoid direct confrontation, but understanding that we will be competing both on ideas, competing economically, competing for global influence, and the like? So I think that’s the context under which I’m looking at this.

And, you know, we ask ourselves the question of, are there places where we could collaborate more together? You know, right now it seems like the areas that would be natural, global health concerns and climate change. You know, we saw the recent comments out of Beijing based on, you know, our diplomatic boycott of the Olympics that those areas are off the table for the time being. So, you know, it doesn’t look great at this point. And certainly, the relationship looks poor. You know, we applaud the Biden administration. I think the president does want to have dialogue. I think that’s his natural go-to place. But right now, the relationship’s not in a great place.

SCIUTTO: One constant that you hear more and more—there was a good piece in the Economist this week that talked about this being a consistent message from Japanese diplomats to the U.S.—is that a factor in all this is that China is both—and Chinese leaders—both confident right now, but also at the same time convinced of America’s weakness, right? Because it thinks that we are a modern Roman Empire. And, by the way, they can overstate that, and they certainly have their own domestic problems when you look at the troubles with Evergrande and so on, a declining birthrate, a whole host of things. Is the U.S. doing enough domestically—when we see political divisions, when we see how long it took it to get an infrastructure bill passed—to defeat that impression?

BERA: You know, I think we have self-inflicted wounds. And some of that is, you know, the political process. And you touched on some of—you know, democratic political processes are messy at times. And, you know, it takes time. And that’s very different than an autocratic form of government. So I think we could do a better job, you know, working on the areas that we agree upon. And certainly, historically, when it came to foreign policy, you know, we would leave our disagreements at the water’s edge and, you know, speak with one voice.

I think that’s increasingly important. That, you know, Republicans may use one form of rhetoric, we may use a different form of language when talking about the competition with China or other areas, but I think on ideas if we can speak with one voice, you know, that would be a lot better. And again, you hear President Biden often say in his conversations with Xi Jinping that Xi Jinping feels like democracy is in decline, and autocracy is less messy and, you know, is going to rule the twenty-first century. I think we as—you know, along with our like-valued allies and friends—you know, have to take that viewpoint very seriously and do what we can to reinvigorate and strengthen democracy and democratic values.

SCIUTTO: Speaking of Xi in particular, there was a time not many years ago when folks in the West, including in this country, looked at Xi and said: Hmm, this could be a reformer. He spent that time in Iowa in the ’80s. He knows America. He’s built relationships. I don’t know anyone who has not since abandoned that idea, given his moves domestically to take it away from consensus decision-making to a more Mao-like, you know, I am the man approach. But also, just draconian moves he’s taken in terms of co-opting Hong Kong and the internment of the Uighurs, et cetera. Is Xi somewhat that an American president can do business with, make deals with? Or is Xi fundamentally a—you know, a leader greedy not just for power domestically, but in the region and abroad?

BERA: You know, I think it’s probably the latter at this point in time, where I don’t see us having the economic relationship, the free market reforms and so forth that, you know, I think many people thought a decade ago China might be headed towards, and where you would have a regional economic framework, and a global framework, for that matter, that could be prosperous for everyone in the twenty-first century. I think, you know, Xi sees this—and Beijing is in many ways kind of going it alone, in some ways. And in some ways, they’re helping us do our job. You know, if you look at—you know, if you’d asked me three or four years ago, I would have said Australia takes a somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards China. And that’s not the case today. They’re probably one of our most hawkish allies.

The European Union I think is taking steps that I would not have imagined that they would have taken steps towards in terms of how they view China. You know, a year ago it looked like they were going to have an investment framework to deal with China. And then, you know, for very mild sanctions on what’s happening to the Uighurs, you know, China’s overreaction really has pulled the EU Parliament and many of the countries in our direction. Their aggressiveness towards Taiwan, you know, and their economic retaliations of Lithuania, you know, is, I think, having the opposite effect. I think more countries are thinking about investing in Taiwan. Look at the AUKUS deal. I think, you know, that’s certainly—you know, comes together. The Quad relationship with Japan, India, Australia. That, you know, has taken on new importance as well. So I think China is going it alone, but they’re also pushing like-valued allies closer together, understanding, you know, where China is under Xi.

SCIUTTO: It’s a good point, in that, you know, folks tend to portray China as ten feet tall, right, and just smarter on every front. But you do see evidence, for instance, with AUKUS, right? I mean, China—and this is an issue close to your heart in terms of economic coercion—was squeezing Australia. And Australia in effect said no mas, right? Right, China squeezing Lithuania. And if you speak about U.S. domestic divisions, which are real. I don’t have to tell you about this. (Laughs.) A rare bipartisan issue in this country, right, is standing up to China, right? In recent years that’s become one. And you’ve reached across the aisle specifically on the issue of economic coercion. So I would ask you just more specifically, as China on that front overplayed its hand, to some degree?

BERA: I think they have, right? I mean, I think—we touched on Australia, but let’s take a look at, you know, their actions in South Korea a couple, you know, years ago, when we deployed a THAAD battery there for South Korea's self-defense. You know, their economic retaliation, not allowing tourists to go to South Korea, continues to impact South Korea to this day. But if you look at polling of the South Korea public, China ranks below Japan. Which, you know, given Korea-Japan relations historically, you know, says something. China’s popularity in India is extremely low right now given, you know, the tensions on the northern borders there with India. So I don’t think China’s, you know, doing itself any favors with how they’re engaging with the rest of the world. Again, kind of this you got to do it our way or no way at all, so.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you about Taiwan. You brought it up. As you know, you go back to the comments, for instance, of Admiral Davidson, who said by the latter half of this decade that China’s likely to invade Taiwan. He’s not alone in that assessment. There are others who dispute that. Where do you stand on Taiwan? Is Taiwan in danger in the near term of being invaded by China?

BERA: Again, China certainly has changed the status quo. You know, their assertiveness, their aggressions in the Straits of Taiwan, you know, have changed the status quo, which was—you know, we still adhere to a One China policy, but that One China policy certainly has created prosperity and has been—has created some stability in the region. China’s changing that calculus with their assertiveness, which is forcing us to reassess, you know, how we allow the people of Taiwan to continue to choose their path forward. You know, in my ten years in Congress, this is the most bipartisan I’ve seen Congress when it comes to Taiwan. I think there’s unanimous support from the far left to the far right on making sure we increase our economic engagement with Taiwan, making sure we work with them to enhance their own self-defense capabilities, and making sure we send a clear message to China on deterrence.

And deterrence is not just military deterrence. Deterrence is economic deterrence, political isolation, what that looks like. And again, I think their assertiveness towards Taiwan—and let me be clear. We didn’t change the calculus. China changed the calculus in the region. It’s driving us closer to the Europeans. It’s driving us closer to Japan, and Korea, and others that are paying attention. But I guess I would close with this: That’s why, you know, watching Russian aggression outside Ukraine, you know, these are not things that are in isolation. I’m sure those in Beijing are watching what unfolds in Eastern Europe.

SCIUTTO: I was going to ask you about that next. And it’s interesting, when you look at Ukraine and Taiwan, that the U.S. and Western approach has a lot of commonalities, right? It is, support each country’s own defenses, arms deals, et cetera. It’s public statements about commitment to the sovereignty of their borders. It’s visits, right? You have Blinken going to Ukraine, you know, in recent days. You’ve had various congressional delegations of both parties, I should note, going there, and others. And you have various movements of U.S. forces, you know, whether it’s sailing a carrier down the Taiwan Strait or, you know, sending U.S. trainers to Ukraine. First, with Taiwan, does the U.S. have that combination right? Is that support sufficient enough?

BERA: Yeah. So where Taiwan’s different from Ukraine is we have the Taiwan Relations Act. So we have some obligations to Taiwan that we’ve spelled out and codified. Whereas we don’t have that same type of codification with Ukraine, although we are there to support and discourage Putin from, you know, making a wrong decision here. I think that you’re seeing the United States trying to work more closely with Taiwan, but also build some more multilateral coalitions that are working with Taiwan. And, again, I go back to that question of deterrence, which—like, are there folks around Xi Jinping that can get him to moderate his view? And, you know, Taiwan is not Hong Kong. I mean, an invasion of Taiwan I think would have real consequences on China as well.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you then in the context of Ukraine, because it’s very much more in the news as an imminent issue today. The president has brought together allies, made statements of commitment, increased defensive lethal military aid. But he did have a moment two days ago when he said, well, a minor incursion might bring a different response. The White House has done its best to clean that up and walk that back and say that any further invasion into Ukrainian territory would amount to an invasion, and there would be a response. Have you seen sufficient deterrence with regards to Ukraine, and Russia’s threat to Ukraine?

BERA: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s complicated and analogous, in some ways, because at the end of the day I think there are folks in Russia that understand that we bring into the full scale of economic sanctions, along with our European allies, that, you know, Russia’s economy is pretty fragile right now. It could have devastating consequences if we target some of the oligarchs, and their assets, and so forth. I don’t think they’re going to be super happy about that. But there’s a menu of responses and options that the administration has laid out pretty publicly that, you know, I think people in Russia and around Putin are probably concerned about.

Now, is that how Putin sees the world? And if he’s the only decision maker, and if he sees Ukraine as—you know, he’s said this for decades, that Ukraine he sees as part of Russia. Will that be enough to get—deter a Vladimir Putin? And it may be enough to deter folks around him. And I think we have the same calculus when we think about Xi Jinping with Taiwan. You know, if he’s the sole decisionmaker, he—we know his view about Taiwan. I mean, he sees this as a legacy issue. But are there folks around him that could moderate him and be moderate influences? I think that’s the seminal question, right? Are there folks that are part of the decision-making process, or is it Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping that are the sole decisionmakers?

SCIUTTO: Maybe a lot of indicators that they are aggrandizing more power over time, right, in decision making. But you make these points—just to circle back to something we talked about briefly a few minutes ago—Russia has weaknesses, right? I mean, Biden made that point on Wednesday that, you know, if there’s an energy war, as it were, with Europe, Russia loses 45 percent of its national income. To an economy that is dependent on energy income, that’s a problem. China, you know, the Evergrande crisis shows broader weaknesses in that economy when it comes to debt, which people have been talking about for years, but they have other things, right? You know, they’re reaching a population growth limit long before they reach wealthy per capita, you know, income status, that sort of thing.

Do you think that in—can the U.S. overstate the strength, to some degree? And, by the way, Russia and China are different categories because China’s economy is, you know, many times of the size of Russia, and has a whole host of other strengths, including the size of its population. But big picture, can the U.S. overstate the risk and danger from these countries to some degree? Overstate their strength?

BERA: Sure. I mean, we can—I think we have to be careful in our statements. And, you know, certainly we can isolate the Russian economy. We can, you know, exclude them from, you know, financial institutions and exact pin on the Russian economy. Can they survive that and get through it? You know, Russia, again, I think is more fragile than China is. China’s probably better positioned to survive and get through something like that, if we really did, you know, cut them off. I think the question would be, you know, will our allies in the Indo-Pacific stick with us?

You know, will those in Southeast Asia, you know, and others, you know, stick with us if China does do an overly aggressive move? And I think that’s a bigger question, because the economies in the Indo-Pacific are much more greatly tied together with China as well, including our own, right? I mean, our economy, if something happens with a Russian invasion into Ukraine, certainly I think the American people will feel it in gas prices and elsewhere. But our two-way trade with Russia is, you know, very different than our two-way trade with China.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. No question. Many multiples. I want to bring up Hong Kong. It’s an issue close to heart for me. I lived there for a number of years. And to watch the speed, but also almost the silence with which China has just turned the whole thing on its head, right? I mean, Hong Kong, yes, is part of China, but it was—it was a different place for 150 years. And that was part of its appeal. It had press freedom where China did not. That’s gone. It had rule of law. It’s not gone, but it’s certainly challenged when China seems to be able to pick and choose where it applies rule of law. Did the world react too mutedly to that step, just let it happen, right? Here’s Hong Kong, a relatively free place. No longer. And I don’t know what price China has paid for that. And I’ve barely heard a blip from U.S. or Western diplomats in recent months as we’ve seen this happen.

BERA: Yeah. And I think in hindsight, but, you know, we probably should have been stronger in our condemnation, and stronger in the isolation. I don’t think it would have ultimately changed the outcome, but I think we have to read Beijing under Xi very carefully. Where, you know, I’ll—and I go back to when I was a freshman—sophomore member of Congress, and you saw what they were doing on the South China Sea. You know, at that point we made the point, like, we got to stop this before—like, because if you give them a foot, they’re going to take a yard. If you give them a yard, they’re going to take, you know, ten yards. If you give them ten yards, they’re going to take a mile. And I think that analogy—we’ve got a much more complicated picture today in the South China Sea than we would have if we had acted much stronger.

And I think you could make the same analogy with Hong Kong, that—you know, and, again, I hope that Beijing doesn’t misread. Hong Kong is not Taiwan, but, you know, I think, you know, he may take the wrong—Xi may take the wrong lessons from that, to say I got away with it so let me take the next step.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. History is full of misreadings, isn’t it, that led to perhaps avoidable conflicts. Another issue, and we’re going to go to audience questions very soon, both in Asia but involving Taiwan, and China, and the U.S., is semiconductor supply. There’s legislation working its way through Congress aptly named CHIPS, to try to handle this. And that’s part of the fear you hear, right, if China were to take Taiwan. Because China—sorry—Taiwan still makes 85-some-odd percent. And there’s an effort to bring it back, or some back, to the U.S. One, how necessary and how soon can that happen, right? I mean, you talk about supply—there’s a reason why Taiwan makes most of our semi—they do it really darn well. And you can’t, like, turn that on a dime to Arizona, like, in a day. So how necessary to migrate more of that here? And how possible? And over what timeframe?

BERA: Yeah. So I think it’s incumbent upon us in Congress to pass the CHIPS Act or to pass the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which came out of the Senate with a bipartisan—strong bipartisan vote. I think the sooner we get that across the finish line, the better off we are. I’ve talked to—you know, I’ve visited Korea recently and, you know, talked to Samsung Semiconductors and, you know, you can talk about Taiwan Semiconductor. They’re ready to reinvest. That won’t turn overnight, but the sooner we have that manufacturing up and running back here domestically, the better, right? Because we’re watching the impact of supply chains and inflation. And a lot of that ties back into, you know, the lack of semiconductors.

You know, other areas that we’ve been exploring at the subcommittee level is, you know, in the rare earth elements space. And China’s got a lot of that market. And, you know, that’s important for battery technology. That’s important for, you know, critical semiconductor technology. And, you know, if we do get into a conflict with China, do they create chokepoints, which are going to—you know, we certainly have stockpiles within the DOD, but we don’t in the consumer space. And, you know, should we be creating stockpiles that allow us to—these are not easy industries to set up, because they’re very dirty industries as well. And I don’t know if we can set up a domestic industry because of environmental concerns. And I think that’s part of the reason why China’s been able to corner that market. You know, certainly that’s something we’ve talked with the Australians about. And the elements aren’t all that rare, it’s just a very dirty industry. So can we create redundant supplies of these important elements and the like?

SCIUTTO: OK. I want to hit one more topic with you before we go to questions. That’s North Korea. It’s been rattling its saber in the form of ballistic missiles, of late. Really haven’t seen any concrete activity on the diplomatic front with North Korea in the last year. Is there anything going on? Or is the idea just to kind of hold them at bay, right? I mean, what is the—what’s the plan?

BERA: (Laughs.) You know, with so much else going on in the world, we haven’t taken our eyes off of North Korea, and it always seems like when we’re not paying attention to North Korea is when they do their saber rattling and send up a few missiles to say, hey, we’re still here. We need your attention. I think, you know, as Secretary Blinken said, you know, the door is open. We’re open to dialogue. But in truth, I do think, you know, some of the summits that President Trump had, the North Koreans got some concessions but really didn’t give anything back. And I think, you know, the North Koreans have to come to the table ready to make real concrete steps. And, you know, that’s not going to be denuclearization of the peninsula.

That’s the end goal of where we want to get to. But what are some real concrete first steps? And I don’t think we’re that close to real dialogue. What we’re also watching, though, there’s a presidential election obviously coming up in Korea. And I know President Moon, you know, very much wanted to restart a dialogue and create some more normalization with the North Koreans. I think our message has to be, yeah, again, we’re open to dialogue, but we want to see concrete steps that North Korea’s going to take before we go there.

I guess the last thing on that topic, and I haven’t read the full readout but I know President Biden was talking with the Japanese prime minister. I think they had a call this morning. And I have to imagine part of that conversation was, you know, again recommitting the U.S.-Japan alliance, but also talking about what’s happening with North Korea. And I do think it’s important for us to get our trilateral relationship with the U.S., Japan, and Korea. It’s moving to a better place than it was a couple years ago, but we’ve got to—you know, when it comes to North Korea, we should all be on the same page, speaking with one voice.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. There were scenarios in the last administration where those treaties—well, perhaps reduction of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula or elsewhere. Those treaties, will they have survived? But it’s interesting, you know, when you speak of unintended consequences, one perhaps unintended consequence of China’s aggression, right, has been a solidifying, you could say, of those relationships, those treaties, but also, you know, certainly a more robust Japanese military than there might have been a number of years ago.

I’m conscious of time because it is, I believe, almost about on the hour. So I want to turn—we got a good number of folks watching, and I want to give everybody a chance to pipe in. So I’m going to turn you over to the other bright minds of the Council, Congressman, if you’re ready for that.

BERA: Of course.


OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

We’ll take the first question from Frank Wisner.

Q: Congressman, thank you for a splendid presentation this afternoon.

I wanted to take you a little bit further afield to one other strategic engagement the United States has developed in Asia. And that’s with India. We have seen over the past several decades an extraordinary transformation in our relations with India, making it a serious partner and a strategic partner, both in the Quad and bilaterally, and a key factor in the way we think about China, and we think about maintaining a balance of power in Asia. At the same time, we’re seeing a rise in India of intolerance, of actions taken to disadvantage minority communities in a religious sense, actions taken in Kashmir to limit the territory’s capacity to exercise its political voice. There have been a variety of issues over the past several years that are of profound concern to all people of good conscience, including large numbers of Indians. So the Congress is faced, and your committee is faced, with that challenge of a serious and emerging strategic relationship, and traditional American concerns about human rights. How do you keep those two in balance as you look at our engagement with India?

BERA: You know, I think that’s a great question. When you think about U.S. India relations—and, you know, let’s take the second piece of that first. As an Indian American myself, and the largest serving in American—in Congress, you know, I know a lot of people look to me to speak about this. And my message both in my public statements as well as private statements delivered directly to the leaders in India and elsewhere are, India’s strength is as a secular democracy, where you can have, you know, 750 million Hindus living side by side with 250 million Muslims. Not always, you know, simple, but, you know, historically that’s their strength. If they start to lose that identity, India becomes a different country. And, you know, it does create cleavages here in the diaspora, not just in the United States but across the world, because you do have a young, politically engaged diaspora here in the United States that is also watching, you know, some of the events take place in India.

That said, you know, in—they are increasingly an important geopolitical partner, friend. I’ve touched on the importance of the Quad relationship between the United States, Japan, India, and Australia, in terms of maritime security, freedom of navigation issues, but also increasingly some of the economic ties and possibilities. You know, when we look at the middle of the pandemic and global health security, and thinking about, you know, how we vaccinate another three billion people around the world, India, given their developed vaccine programs, is going to be an important strategic partner. So we’ve got to find the right way to, you know, try to preserve the secular nature of India, you know, through the right channels so we don’t necessarily offend their sensibilities, but also at the same time make sure we continue on this path of geopolitical partnership. Not always easy.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Priscilla Clapp.

Q: Can you hear me now?

SCIUTTO: I can—yeah, I can hear you.

Q: Oh. Thank you very much for a really interesting conversation. I’m Priscilla Clapp. I’m with the U.S. Institute of Peace. I’m retired Foreign Service, like Frank.

I’d like to turn to two other countries in Southeast Asia and South Asia that were on the agenda—Myanmar and Afghanistan. Both of these countries are in—facing very serious humanitarian and economic disasters, brought on by harsh, violent, isolationist dictatorships. Is there anything that you see as a viable policy for the U.S. other than sanctions with these two countries?

BERA: Yeah. So let’s separate the two countries. Let’s talk about Afghanistan first. I mean, we’re watching a massive humanitarian crisis unfold right before our eyes. And I think you’ll see members of Congress in a bipartisan way looking at ways for us to, you know, get aid to the—to the Afghan people. But also, understanding that politically, you know, if those resources are going through the Taliban, I think it would be very hard for us politically, here domestically in Congress, to say, you know, let’s unfreeze the frozen assets and, you know, have those go through the Taliban. I think we are looking for ways to make some of the frozen assets more readily available to go directly to the Afghan people, to NGOs, and others.

You know, we’ve had conversations with the United Nations, with our ambassador to the U.N., to avert what could be, you know, a tragic humanitarian crisis. Separate that out from, you know, the Taliban. They are showing an inability to govern very well. It’s one thing to be a fighting force. It’s another thing to be a governing force. And how do we prevent a full-scale collapse in Afghanistan? I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t think it’s isolation. You know, I’ve traveled recently both to Uzbekistan and to Pakistan to have conversations with their governments, because the risk of a full-scale collapse in Afghanistan is we may not like the Taliban, but what comes next could be a lot worse.

And you’re seeing some of—you know, you’re seeing domestic terror attacks happening in Pakistan. And those seem to be increasing. And, you know, the Pakistanis are straightforward but, yeah, if Afghanistan collapses, they’ll feel it immediately that, you know, the groups that—the Taliban, I believe, don’t have, you know, any international terror threats. So they’re not necessarily a threat to our own homeland, but what comes next, you know, certainly could be. So that’s Afghanistan. I think there’s—you know, we have to figure a way, working with countries in the region and elsewhere, to relieve the humanitarian crisis but try to keep some semblance of a government functioning in Afghanistan so there’s no a wholesale collapse.

Myanmar’s, you know, different. The Tatmadaw has been there for a long time. And, you know, we’re watching, you know, this civil resistance with the National Unity Government and, you know, various ethnic minorities starting to—it’s very different. I don’t think, you know, they’re going to stop the resistance anytime soon. You’re seeing an increase—you know, now that they’re in the dry season, the Tatmadaw is on an offensive. And, you know, how do we avoid a full-scale civil war here? And I don’t necessarily know the answer to that question because I don’t know what that diplomatic solution is.

That, you know, have we gone past the point where you could go back to the status quo a year ago, before the coup? I don’t know that you could get back to that point. And I’m also not sure who the negotiators who could—and we don’t officially recognize the Tatmadaw. So but what’s the solution that doesn’t have them at the table? And I think that’s important. How do we avoid a humanitarian crisis? Can we target sanctions at the junta and the military leaders of the Tatmadaw, but not—you know, sanctions also have a biting effect on the people that are there. So, you know, I know we’ve debated in Congress, do you sanction some of the oil companies that still are deriving revenue? That would also impact the people of Myanmar as well as others in the region.

So, Priscilla, I haven’t given you a great answer, other than I do think—you know, and maybe this is a place, with Myanmar, where the Chinese interest and our interests align. Where I don’t think the Chinese want to see a full-scale civil war on their border, a full-scale refugee crisis on their border. And maybe that’s a place where we can have dialogue with the Chinese and the Indians, and the ASEAN nations.

SCIUTTO: Congressman, if I could ask a brief follow on the Afghanistan situation. The U.S., as you know, left behind many tens of thousands of Afghans who worked both with the U.S. military or government, or both. Many of them face a genuine threat from the Taliban. I’m sure your office has been in touch with folks like that. You know that many military veterans are advocating for their former comrades in arms to be taken out. I’ve been in touch with folks in that category. Does the U.S. owe a debt to these people, to give them safe passage out of the country?

BERA: Yeah, we do. And, you know, had a chance to go to Doha and visit with embassy Kabul, which is now located in Doha. And part of the reason to go to Pakistan and Uzbekistan is, you know, they’ve been helpful in helping us get folks across the border and get them out. I think we do, which is why we have to have open lines of communication. You know, whether we like the Taliban or don’t like the Taliban, right now they control the airports. And if we want to have flights out and the issuance of passports and the like, we’ve got to work with our partners in the region, but then also folks within Afghanistan.

You know, Sacramento County, which is my home district, has the largest population of Afghan refugees in the country. So we hear it all the time. You know, so certainly for the folks that supported our troops, I think there is a desire and intention, both in Congress and the administration, to get those folks out, and their immediate family members. The challenge that we’re facing right now is the definition of family in Afghanistan and elsewhere is aunts, uncles—families are very big. And, you know, the issuance of visas outside of a spouse or children is very difficult right now in terms of the numbers of folks. We’re going to continue working through that. We’re going to continue making sure that we’re providing adequate resources to the resettlement agencies, because it’s not just getting them out there. When they arrive in a brand-new country, you know, getting them assimilated and settled. But I agree with you, Jim. You know, our mission there in terms of getting folks out is not over.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Akhil Bery.

Q: Thank you, Congressman. My name’s Akhil Bery. I’m with the Asian Society Policy Institute here in D.C.

As you mentioned a few times now, you—about your trip to Pakistan. One thing that Pakistan is showing interest in is transforming the relationship with the U.S. to one focused on geoeconomics rather than counterterrorism efforts. Could you talk a little bit more about how you see the U.S.-Pakistan relationship evolving, especially in light of the withdrawal from Afghanistan?

BERA: Yeah. So it’s obviously not in a great place. Imran Khan’s comments when Kabul collapsed probably didn’t help the relationship within Congress, celebrating that collapse. That said, you know, I think we both have interests in making sure there’s not a wholesale collapse of Afghanistan. I think—you know, when I think about South Asia, and you have to think about India-Pakistan relations. And, you know, are there ways to—if we’re doing economic development, direct foreign investment in Pakistan, to also try to move the economic engagement between India and Pakistan to a better place. You know, not easy.

We’ve also, again, tried to dialogue with both the Indian American diaspora and the Pakistani American diaspora, and are there ways for the diasporas to try to get the Indo-Pak relationship to a better place? And again, I think it’s in the region’s interest to try to create some semblance of stability in Afghanistan. And that’s not easy, because I think Afghanistan often gets caught up in India versus Pakistan, and who’s going to have influence in that direction. And so do I think there’s an opportunity to increase economic engagement with Pakistan from the United States? There probably is. I don’t think it’ll be on the military side, though, because if I’m just guessing where Congress is, you know, there wouldn’t be much support there. Can you drive direct foreign investment into Pakistan? You know, you probably can.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Tim Ferguson.

Q: Thank you. I’m a journalist in New York, focused on Asia.

But interesting aspect of the tough bipartisan stance toward China that was referred to earlier is the relative quiet of business interests in the United States who’ve long pushed for more engagement. Congressman, I’m wondering what you hear and feel from those interests, whether in Silicon Valley or elsewhere, at this time. Thank you.

BERA: So I think there’s a concern, but not the same level of concern that I think we feel within Congress and elsewhere. And, you know, I think if you look at our financial services industry and Wall Street, sometimes you feel like they think, oh, well, China will revert back to where they were a decade from now. Just give them time. I don’t think that’s the sense that we share in Congress. I mean, I don’t think the Chinese economy is going to go back to a place where maybe a decade ago we would have thought there’d be some liberalization and, you know, more interconnectedness. I think we in Congress feel like Xi Jinping is taking them in a very different direction.

And I would look at, you know, Chinese entrepreneurs, Chinese tech companies, and so forth, and how he’s approaching Chinese companies. If he’s approaching Chinese companies in that way, you know, what is he going to do to U.S. companies and European companies? And, you know, we had a hearing earlier this week in my subcommittee on the importance of economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the area of, you know, digital trade. If it was up to me, I’d go back into TPP. And, you know, I think not getting TPP over the finish line, you know, was a strategic failure on our end.

I do think we could a digital trade deal. And I think it’s important for us to, you know, work with the administration to try to figure out what that looks like, because now you’re talking about issues of data localization, data privacy, and, you know, the digital realm. And the folks in the region want to do this. But, Tim, back to your original question. I don’t think—whether it’s tech companies or Wall Street—are looking at China the same way we are, with the same level of concern.

SCIUTTO: A brief follow again, if I can, to that question. Given you’re at least close to Golden State Warriors country in Sacramento. You’re aware of the part owner’s comments about the Uighurs. Chamath Palihapitiya saying nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uighurs, a very, sort of, you know, not top of my list sort of thing. Obviously, that’s sparked a lot of understandable outrage. What do you think when you hear that? His were the most pointed—was the most pointed dismissal of the Uighurs as a concern to a U.S. business. But short of that very public comment, you’ve had other businesses just go ahead and do business, you know, even in Xinjiang where this is happening, possibly even with businesses connected to enforced labor. What should the U.S. business community position be on this?

BERA: Well, so, I did see those comments. I thought they were naïve and, you know, unfortunate, because we in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, certainly are paying attention to what’s happening in Xinjiang. And we just passed the Uighur legislation signed by the president. And that wasn’t an easy piece of legislation because there are legitimate concerns from U.S. companies. You know, you don’t want to be overly broad, but you also want to be fully aware of the human rights issues that are taking place in Xinjiang. This is a place where the Europeans are working more closely with us as well, as we look at this. And that ties into, Jim, what we were talking about earlier, the economic coercion, retaliation that China does.

So how do we stand up for our values of human rights and, you know, not turn a blind eye to what’s happening in Xinjiang, but at the same time understand, you know, we don’t want to disadvantage our companies and others? So it’s—you know, I think we have to speak with a large voice based on our values and who we are. And I’m reading in the papers this morning about some of the blowback Tesla’s, you know, getting for setting up a showroom in Xinjiang. So I don’t think this issue is going away. And, you know, I’d love to say we can provide Beijing economic—or, a diplomatic offramp. I just don’t think they would take that offramp. Yeah.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from David Merkel. David, please accept the unmute now.

Q: Thank you, Chairman, for your time and for your service. My name is David Merkel with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

I want to go just a little bit west of Xinjiang into Kazakhstan. President Tokayev has been pursuing a—what he calls a multi-vector foreign policy since he was foreign minister, balancing the interests of Russia, China, and the United States. Recently putting down the protests following the increase in the price of gas, he put out a shoot to kill order, did not have elite or popular legitimacy, so either turned to or accepted the offer from Putin to move in Russian troops. I have two questions. One is, is Congress considering any sanctions for the hundreds of protesters that were killed? And minus the United States and with Tokayev leaning more and more on Putin, is this a possible area of greater competition between Beijing and Moscow? Keeping in mind that President Xi introduced the Belt and Road Initiative at Nazarbayev University in 2013, and the Khorgos dry dock facility is the largest facility to move the belt part of the land access from China to Europe. Thank you.

BERA: Thanks. You know, I think we’re still trying to untangle exactly, you know, what happened in Kazakhstan. I think the Kazakhs were surprised at the reaction. I talked to the Kazakh ambassador last week in trying to make sense of this. I don’t think this was done by strategic design. I think, you know, there was natural blowback from the Kazakh population. And I think the government was surprised by what happened. Again, that’s my impression, my opinion. I don’t think—and I think we’re still trying to untangle, you know, the fact that the Russian troops came in, you know, under their treaty obligations and alliance.

The fact that they left fairly quickly as well, you know, might be a positive. So this may be less about geopolitical politics with regards to China or Russia, as opposed to internal Kazakh politics. And you’ve got the current present, and you’ve got the former leader and founder of the country. And I think we just have to get a better sense of what are the internal Kazakh politics right now as well, you know, before we take any concrete steps.

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Beth Sanner.

Q: Hi. You mentioned—first, thanks so much for this amazing round the region and around the world. It is not easy, and I’m really impressed with your knowledge, but also with your thoughtfulness and saying when things are hard. Because I think things are just hard.

You mentioned this bap between Wall Street and Congress. And it made me think about a much bigger gap, which is between the American people and the elites that all of us are. And I just wanted to ask you, how do you talk to your constituents about why foreign policy matters, why they should care. And is there anything that all of us can do in our little elite bubble to further that conversation?

BERA: Yeah. And I think that’s a great question because, you know, it’s not always easy. I was having a conversation—I caucus with the New Democratic Coalition, which is ninety-seven House Democrats. And as part of the leadership team, we were talking about the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, USICA. The American public has no idea what that is, and why is that an important piece of legislation. But if we talk to them about inflation and, you know, supply chains and why this is an important bill to help us start dealing with inflation, you know, part of the reason why it’s, you know, hard to find cars and so forth are the semiconductor chips that’ll help us start bringing jobs back to the United States. And, you know, we’re also in competition with China, and help us with our competition.

I think we’ve got to talk about it in those general terms because what matters for my constituents is when they go to the grocery store and, you know, they’re—you know, they can’t get the products that they want, or they want to buy a brand-new car and they can’t find that car, or, you know, if we did have a conflict with Russia they’re going to see oil prices go up. And, you know, I think, you know, we’ve got to speak to the public—we, being members of Congress, but also the administration and the president, if something like that’s going to happen. I think we’ve got to put it in a language that matters to them. Like, if we talk about supply chains, they won’t know what that means. If we talk about how they want to get their kid a new Nintendo for Christmas and it’s just not there, and your flat’s not there, they may get that.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Edward Cox.

Q: Yes. Thank you, Chairman, for this discussion. Ed Cox, corporate and finance lawyer, doing a lot of things with the Committee for Economic Development now.

My question in gross is why isn’t South Korea a part of the Quad, to make it five? And I think the question goes in part to the tremendous economic ties between Korea and China. I found it interesting what you mentioned in the poll, that China ranks below Japan now in their polling. But yet, those ties, and even cultural ties, are very important. If you could address that, please, I would appreciate it.

BERA: Yeah. So I think the easy answer is Korea probably wouldn’t formally want to be part of the Quad, just for Korean politics. You know, certainly there are folks that have said, you know, do you expand the Quad? Do you make it Quad+1? That said I do think Korea is a much bigger player in international coalitions. You know, they’re certainly going to be a partner with us in global vaccine efforts. And, you know, and they should be. You know, I think giving Korea a bigger role on the world stage is something that we would probably welcome, but it also has to be something that the Korean people want, and, you know, their government wants to step up.

I think that will happen naturally. I don’t know if it will be the Quad or in some other multilateral coalition of likeminded countries. But, you know, given the opportunities in the region, you know, a place where I think the United States, Japan and Korea could work really closely together is when we—you know, we’re strategically thinking about our investment and our engagement in Southeast Asia. And my message to the Southeast Asians when I’m there and interacting with them is this is not about Southeast Asia or ASEAN being caught in between the great-power competition of China and the United States. This is about, you know, the unique attributes that the Southeast Asian nations have in terms of the dynamic economies, growing economies that they have. Also, they’re an important strategic geopolitical, you know, relationship. You know, when it comes to Myanmar, you know, Indonesia’s taken a very active role in ASEAN to try to find a resolution. There’s a—you know, I do think U.S.-Korea, U.S.-Japan, U.S., Korea, Japan, India—again, I don’t know if it’ll be the Quad, but I do think you’ll see countries coming together, because we all have similar values, similar rules of a rules-based order, and similar democratic values.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our last question from Jonathan Colby.

Q: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, can you hear me?

BERA: Yes.

Q: Yeah. Thank you so much for a terrific—and then, Jim—a terrific dialogue.

A question. We haven’t really addressed the military aspects of deterrence. And I was fascinated by your discussion of the congressional steps that you’re taking—the rare earths initiatives you were talking about, the CHIPS Act, and whatnot. There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal that I saw this morning about how the failure to author—not to authorize—to appropriate a defense budget is really hamstringing some of the development of more lethal weapons that might be useful in the defense of Taiwan. Can you address that? And from your perspective, where we’re dropping the ball there? And could we do something to move that along to enhance our deterrence so that we don’t end up in a shooting war with China? Thank you.

BERA: Yeah, I mean, the goal certainly is to get an omnibus bill passed and, you know, to get those appropriations in. You saw both the House, and Senate, and the president sign the NDAA, which does have a lot in there. Both making sure our capabilities in the Indo-Pacific are what they need to be, but also many Taiwan-specific provisions. A lot of that obviously is working with the Taiwanese government. And, you know, I’ve said this publicly, that instead of talking about building submarines that, you know, probably get taken out fairly easily, why not think about the defense capabilities that, you know, would be a little bit harder, and hopefully would send, you know, a greater deterrence to China that the invasion of Taiwan would not be easy and quick. That there would be a price to pay if China were to go in that direction.

I do think that’s where we can work with them. You know, we saw the Taiwanese budget come out. And they are increasing their defense spending. And, you know, let’s work with them on what those assets look like. And it does seem like the Taiwanese people are starting to take the threat from the PRC much more seriously. So, you know, I think this is a place where you’ll see Democrats and Republicans in Congress, along with the administration, but also the EU and other allies in the region hopefully working together to deter conflict and hopefully, you know, keep peace and stability in the region.

Well, Jim, I don’t know if that was the last question. I know—

SCIUTTO: I think—I guess it was, given the time. And I could keep people here throughout their afternoons, but I’m not going to do that to them, or to you. Thank you. I really enjoyed the conversation. I look forward to selfishly getting you back on the air again soon.

BERA: Great. Fantastic. Thanks, Jim. Appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Thanks to the team as well, and all of you for joining this afternoon.


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