State Politics

China is the ‘most significant and consequential’ challenge facing U.S., Risch says at talk

Idaho U.S. Sen. Jim Risch has served on the U.S Senate Committee on Foreign Relations since 2009. But a foreign relations speech he gave Friday night was a first.

“This is a first for me. I have never given a foreign policy speech in Idaho,” Risch told an audience of about 100 people at Boise State University during a meeting of the Boise Committee on Foreign Relations, a civic group is in its 74th year.

In January, Risch, a Republican, was selected chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, a position previously held by two U.S. senators from Idaho, William Borah and Frank Church.

During his nearly hour-long long speech Risch covered a range of topics:

Global politics: “The world is bearing witness to the most substantial strategic alliance of great powers since the beginning of the Cold War. And at the same time, people around the world are losing faith in the institutions of their governments. ... Today, for the first time in generations, the United States is facing the realities of sharing an international stage with real competitors in every major region of the world including Asia, Europe and the Middle East, who are willing and, most importantly, are now able to compete against us. … We face global competition from a China that desires to be more than a regional power and, in addition to that, of a resurgent Russia that wants to regain the influence it enjoyed during the heightened Cold War. At the same time, rogue states like Iran and North Korea continue to challenge stability in their regions.”

China: “Of all these challenges, China is the most significant and consequential to the future of the United States. Unlike Russia or Iran, China presents a truly global challenge. ... It is impossible for me to put into words the influence China is having on the world.”

“If there is one major theme to note throughout the Chinese communist party’s domestic and foreign policies, it is one of broken commitments. … A related theme that runs throughout Chinese polices is its total disregard for rule of law and a seemly lack of understanding that there is such a thing as rule of law.”

Russia: “Twenty years ago, Russia was almost absent from the Middle East. Today, Russia has inserted itself in countless disputes. It has colonized parts of Syria and built a substantial military presence there. If it weren’t for the Russians, (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad would have been gone long, long ago.”

“...We can list the Russian sins, they are as long as your arm. … Their attempted insertion into our elections, not only our elections but every democracy in the world they attempted to insert themselves into and, my personal favorite, is going out and poisoning people in London. … We are putting sanctions on them. We continue to turn the screw and we are going to continue to do that.”

Intelligence agencies: “We have 17 intelligence agencies in the United States. They do the best and the most work of keeping us out of trouble of any agency that we have. … We haven’t had another 9/11, not because people don’t want to drop another 9/11 on us, but because we are hardened from the intelligence side.”

Nuclear energy: “Many more nuclear reactors are being constructed overseas as compared to the one that is under construction here in the United States. America and, indeed the world, must remain committed to nuclear energy ... Nuclear energy accounts for only 20 percent of America’s electricity. … with the exception of the plant expansion in Georgia, the U.S. has not built a nuclear reactor in three decades. In recent years, eight reactors have shut down, I think that takes the fleet to under 100 reactors in the United States. .... This is trend we really cannot afford to continue.”

INL and cybersecurity: “Make no mistake consistent reliable energy is just as viable to our national security as our roads, military and economy. Our state and nation is blessed with the Idaho National Laboratory, the birthplace of nuclear energy in the universe. … They are now becoming not only the flagship on nuclear energy, but on cybersecurity. …This is the biggest threat to America. … Many of us believe, and I feel strongly, that the next event in America, the next 9/11 kind of event, I don’t mean small event, I mean major event, is going to be a cyber security event.”

Following his speech, Risch took questions from the audience, including a question about his position on the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and sanctions against the Saudi Arabian government, which was behind the murder.

“I have publicly condemned what they did,” Risch said. “This was an act by a government. This was an act by Saudi Arabia. I have condemned it in the strongest terms. It was barbaric act, and it was terrible.”

Risch said while he has not talked with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia about the murder, he has talked with many other officials.

“I told them that they were one Kashoggi event away from having to go find a new partner,” Risch told the audience.

He said the United States should continue the alliance on a strategic basis, with the best interests of America in mind.

“If we abandon that country right now … they would be run over immediately by the Iranians,” Risch said. “In addition to that, they would very quickly go out and try and find a new partner … so they would look to China or Russia. If they hook up with either China or Russia, then it is going to be greatly complicated, our position in the Middle East.”

One of the audience’s final questions came from Frank Church’s granddaughter, Monica Church, who confronted Risch about President Donald Trump.

“I teach American government, and I have for quite a long time,” Church said. “Can you help me explain to my students, as it has become very difficult when the president has made now over 12,000 misleading or false statements, why that is, how I explain it and why our senators do nothing?”

Risch responded, “I am not going to stand and explain that. I will let you take that up with the president. If you are looking for someone to fight with the president, you’ve got the wrong guy.”

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Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named Idaho Press Club reporter of the year in 2017 and 2008. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.
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