A group of 14 US lawmakers have introduced a bill in the Congress which demands the government to identify, analyse, and combat alleged efforts made by the Chinese government to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for nationalistic gains.
Introduced by Congressman Jared Golden and co-sponsored by 13 other Congressmen, the ''Preventing China from Exploiting COVID-19 Act'' would mandate the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to investigate the ways in which the Chinese government intends to seize on the COVID-19 pandemic to promote its interests on the national stage and evaluate the risks to the United States.
It also asks the DNI to provide policymakers with information they need to address and counter Chinese actions, when necessary, and report its findings to the Congress.
"Since COVID-19 began, there is evidence that China is at work using the pandemic crisis against Americans through cyber-theft and the spread of misinformation," said Golden.
"We need to fully understand these threats and respond to them. We're introducing the ''Preventing China from Exploiting COVID-19 Act'' to gather and analyse important intelligence our country needs to protect American people and businesses," Golden said.
The bill requires the DNI -- in coordination with the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security -- to prepare an assessment of the different ways in which the Chinese government has exploited or could exploit the pandemic, which originated in China, in order to advance China's interests and to undermine the interests of the United States, its allies, and the rule-based international order.
The assessment must be provided to Congress within 90 days and posted in unclassified form on the DNI's website.
"As we fight to save American lives and rebuild our economy, no country should be allowed to exploit the pandemic for its own advantage, yet reports indicate that China has done exactly that," said Congressman Torres Small, a co-sponsor of the bill.
"This is a time when countries should be coming together to fight the spread of COVID-19, not exploiting breakdowns in supply chains or a shortage of critical equipment like masks, gloves and gowns in order to advance their own national security interests. This is unacceptable, and the United States must be able to hold China accountable if it continues," he said.
Among others, the legislation requires the DNI to investigate, analyse, and report on the techniques used by the Chinese government to obstruct or retaliate against nations that have sought a full inquiry into China's role in the emergence and spread of COVID-19, and the Chinese government's motivations for such efforts.
It seeks investigation into the activities undertaken by the Chinese government, like cyber-theft, intended to acquire information and intellectual property related to COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines.
The bill also asks the DNI to probe the manner in which the Chinese government seeks to advance its foreign policy interests by providing economic aid or medical equipment to nations adversely affected by COVID-19, and the degree to which this aid makes recipient countries more likely to adopt positions favourable to China and detrimental to the United States.
The ways in which the Chinese government is using, or may be planning to use, the global disruption and distraction associated with COVID-19 as an opportunity to more aggressively pursue longstanding objectives, including with respect to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and territorial disputes, is another subject being pointed out by the Congressmen.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have spiralled downward since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. US President Donald Trump has questioned the Asian powerhouse's handing of COVID-19.
The two countries have also sparred over China imposing a new national security law in Hong Kong, restrictions on American journalists, treatment of Uyghurs Muslims and security measures in Tibet.