Among congressional Democrats and Republicans, there is a palpable sense of urgency for action to address national security threats posed by China.  

Recent months have surfaced a flurry of legislative proposals and substantive hearings, including a session of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in which former Secretary of StateMike Pompeo and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta advocated for protections to U.S. infrastructure against CCP sabotage. In an otherwise gridlocked Congress, such efforts are a welcome show of bipartisanship.

Yet in their determination, legislators must ensure their efforts are rooted in a comprehensive and enduring China strategy, avoiding well-meaning yet potentially inadvisable policies. While some legislative proposals may appear bold and expedient in countering Beijing’s authoritarian agenda, they carry the risk of inadvertently compromising U.S. foreign policy objectives or diluting core American values. 

Consider the Chinese Military and Surveillance Company Sanctions Act (H.R. 740), unanimously endorsed by the House Financial Services Committee. The bill advocates for designating Chinese entities engaged in China’s defense and related materiel sectors, and those included on the Chinese Military Industrial Complex (CMIC) list, as Specially Designated Nationals (SDN). Such a designation — considered the “nuclear” option for sanctions — would entail freezing all U.S. assets belonging to such entities and prohibiting Americans from transacting with them.

Supporters of the “Barr bill,” named for Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), contend it is a fitting response to the very real economic challenges posed by China. Yet such harmonization of sanctions could also sacrifice critical nuance in U.S. trade controls. With the most severe penalty imposed on any entity that would draw even the slightest attention from the U.S. government, the move would effectively constrain the executive branch, hindering its ability to pursue measured and incremental sanctions.

Such limitations could delay or undermine early efforts aimed at dissuading entities from persisting or escalating their objectionable conduct. They would also likely prompt U.S. government agencies to opt to remove entities of lesser concern from their sanctions list to mitigate the negative impacts of having imposed disproportionate harm. H.R. 740’s prohibition on the engagement of U.S. individuals with SDN-designated entities could also jeopardize American participation in global standards-setting bodies. 

Should, for instance, Chinese companies involved in the International Organization for Standardization’s subcommittee on artificial intelligence be classified as SDNs, U.S. firms would be prohibited from exchanging information with them within the standards-setting process. This could result in the worldwide adoption of AI standards contrary to U.S. national security and corporate interests. That the presiding chair of said subcommittee has ties to CMIC-listed Huawei underscores the possibility of such a scenario.

A similarly concerning proposal is the Prohibiting Adversarial Patents Act (H.R. 5475), introduced by Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wis.). Though withdrawn from the House Judiciary Committee’s scheduled consideration in November, its supporters may yet try to revive it. The proposed legislation, referred to as PAPA, aims to restrict individuals affiliated with entities on U.S. sanctions lists from obtaining U.S. patents. It further aims to void patents previously awarded to such individuals. Proponents claim such measures are needed to thwart China’s theft of U.S. intellectual property.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property estimate that CCP theft of American IP costs the U.S. between $225 billion and $600 billion annually. The matter is a pressing one. Yet withholding U.S. patents from Chinese individuals would offer minimal recourse. At most, it might deprive them of financial gains from their innovations –– if that. Such a move would, however, likely provoke retaliation from China, escalating Beijing’s predatory acquisition of American IP albeit under an acquired pretext of legitimacy.

What’s more, the introduction of new criteria, beyond novelty and usefulness, for patent assessments contradicts the foundational principles of the American patent system set forth by the Founding Fathers. Patents are awarded democratically, based solely on innovation merits. Any deviation could set a troubling precedent, opening the door to further restrictions on patent applicants and a possible decline in American ingenuity. In our efforts to counter the Chinese Communist threat, we must not compromise the very principles that define America’s greatness and make it worth defending. 

There is a compelling and urgent need to address the many challenges posed by China. These range from CCP infiltration within our schools, vulnerabilities to our critical supply chains, and the wider threat of a China-Russia-Iran alliance for U.S. interests abroad. The House Select Committee has put forth numerous robust proposals to tackle these and other issues, many detailed in its “Select Committee Report on Winning the Economic Competition Against China.” As Washington continues to navigate this challenge, it must continue to pursue focused, strategic and bold initiatives.

Yet such initiatives must reflect our unique American values and position us for enduring success, both domestically and overseas. Pompeo underscored this imperative in his recent congressional testimony. The U.S. “must not simply fight this war to a muddled draw, but we must win it. The world and the post-World War II order depend on it.” Depending on it, too, is the clear-headedness and strategic foresight of those in Washington.