BOISE — Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, in his first foreign policy speech in Idaho since becoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the United States is facing rising competition around the world, which threatens to upset the world order that emerged from World War II.
“The world is bearing witness to the most substantial realignment” since then, Risch told the Boise Committee on Foreign Relations in a speech Friday at Boise State University. “We’re still the 800-pound gorilla, but we do have some competitors,” he said, facing global competition from China, a resurgent Russia, and “rogue states like Iran and North Korea.”
Collectively, he said, that’s something U.S. foreign policy has always tried to prevent.
China is the biggest concern, Risch said. “It’s impossible for me to put into words the influence that China is having around the world.”
He said he was in Johannesburg, South Africa, three weeks ago, he was surprised to see huge groups of Chinese workers coming and going to build bridges and other major public works. At his hotel when he was channel-surfing on the TV, he said, “They got the Chinese channel.”
Risch decried China’s thefts of American intellectual property, including attempting to patent technology that belonged to Boise-based Micron Technology and then sue Micron over it in a Chinese court. Risch said when he met with the Chinese ambassador, “I laid out under no uncertain terms what our complaints were. … They were just flat stealing.”
“He said, well, you Americans must understand, you’ve been doing this patent thing for many, many years,” while the Chinese are “kind of new at this. … My response was, ‘Get outta here.’ ” The Chinese know exactly what they’re doing, he said.
He also noted the turmoil in Hong Kong.
“We should all care about what is happening there,” he said. “A country that breaks its promises to its own people will certainly not” behave any better “with its international partners.”
He said bipartisan legislation is in the works to address Hong Kong.
“Our issue is obviously not with the Chinese people, it’s with the Chinese Communist Party,” he said, which he described as controlling all the country’s resources and deploying them to its own ends. “Make no mistake, we are entering a new period of international rivalry.”
“We must be able to compete in every corner of the globe because our values … are worth defending,” Risch declared.
He said those values include democracy, human rights, the rule of law, free markets and free trade. “The United States does not seek to dominate the international system to enrich itself. This is not true of our competitors,” Risch said.
The second-term senator, who began his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee nine months ago, spoke for nearly 50 minutes, then took questions from the audience for close to another half-hour.
One audience member asked him how the United States could continue to consider Saudi Arabia an ally after the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
“I am as disgusted and nauseated as anyone with what they did,” Risch said. “I told them that they were one Khashoggi event away from having to find a new partner.”
Risch said if the U.S. cuts ties with Saudi Arabia, “they would be run over immediately by the Iranians,” and likely would seek a new partner in China or Russia. He said he’s discussed the matter with President Donald Trump. “He thinks and I agree that it would greatly complicate our situation in the Middle East if we cut that tie.”
Another question, from Monica Church, granddaughter of the late Idaho Sen. Frank Church — who also chaired Senate Foreign Relations — was about how she, as a teacher, can explain to her American government students the president’s “over 12,000 misleading statements” since he’s been in office.
“I’m not going to stand up here and explain that,” Risch responded. “You’ll have to take that up with the president. My job is to run the foreign relations committee.”
The Boise Committee on Foreign Relations, which has been around for more than 70 years, brings in major speakers on international matters to address its members each month. Membership is open, but it’s dominated by former government employees or people who have worked abroad, and includes a retired Marine Corps general and a former ambassador.
“I’m in the middle of things right now, lots of heavy-duty stuff going on,” Risch told the crowd of about 125.
“Idahoans are more focused on the things we do with our families,” Risch said. “But foreign relations are just as important to anyone living in Idaho … as anywhere.”.
Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.