Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., threw his support behind U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s, R-Tenn., proposal “ to shed light on the 157 sister city partnerships between U.S. and Chinese communities.”
Rubio’s office offered some of the details on Blackburn’s bill.
“The Sister City Transparency Act would create a GAO report on sister city partnerships operating within the U.S. More specifically, the bill would direct the Comptroller General to conduct a study on such partnerships involving foreign communities in countries with significant public sector corruption – e.g., the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation,” Rubio’s office noted. The study would: identify the oversight practices that U.S. communities implement to mitigate the risks of foreign espionage and economic coercion within sister city partnerships; assess the extent to which foreign communities could use sister city partnerships to conduct malign activities, including academic and industrial espionage; and review best practices to ensure transparency regarding sister city partnerships’ agreements, activities, and employees.”
Other backers of the bill include U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-ND, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC.
“Beijing has a history of conducting its malign activities by exploiting cultural and economic partnerships,” Rubio said. “This means that sister-city partnerships require further scrutiny. It’s in our national and economic security interest to better understand, and counter, China’s growing malign influence at the state and local level. I look forward to working with my colleagues across the aisle to pass this bill, which will provide greater transparency on the CCP’s ongoing efforts to conduct influence operations in the U.S.”
“Sister cities are strategic partnerships that Beijing brokers to create a foothold in American communities,” Blackburn said. “These partnerships are yet another tool in Beijing’s campaign to infiltrate our culture to achieve their economic ends. In the past, China has used a sister city partnership to force a local government to abide by Chinese policies or face economic retaliation. It is imperative we shed light on these partnerships to determine whether they leave American communities vulnerable to foreign espionage and ideological coercion.”
“Right now sister city partnerships can too easily be abused by the Chinese Communist Party, a regime intent on spying on Americans, stealing American ideas, and targeting Americans for propaganda,” Hawley said. “The Sister City Transparency Act addresses this threat by demanding transparency from sister city partnerships and identifying best practices for ensuring Beijing can’t use these relationships to advance its own malign agenda.”
“The Chinese Communist Party regularly exploits its sister city partnerships around the world to aggressively advance its own agenda,” Cramer said. “Our bill would give us a better understanding of China’s reach into the United States and allow us to address that accordingly.”
“As China becomes a larger threat to the United States, we must have proper oversight and review of practices over sister city partnerships,” Tillis said. “With proper insight, we can see the true nature of these partnerships and mitigate the risk of any corruption or destructive activity. I am proud to work with my colleagues on this legislation to protect our cities from any potential threat of espionage the Chinese Communist Party may impose.”
The bill was sent to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. House.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.