The US Congress must take immediate action to counter the economic and national security threats posed by the Chinese government, a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers from a newly created special House committee has warned during an inaugural, primetime hearing.
The committee’s Republican chairman, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, said the two superpowers were locked in an existential struggle over “what life in the 21st century will look like”, as the rivalry between the US and China deepens.
With democracy advocates and protesters in attendance, the panel — formally the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party — began its work at a precarious moment for US-China relations. It comes amid reports of a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the continental US and intelligence that Beijing is considering providing the deadly weapon to aid Russia in its war against Ukraine.
Meanwhile, China’s militarization and aggression toward Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing claims as its own, as well as its response to the coronavirus pandemic, have further raised tensions.
Outlining the broad range of challenges to be addressed by the panel, lawmakers peppered witnesses with questions on human rights abuses, trade policies, TikTok’s influence, aggression in Taiwan, the origins of Covid-19 and international espionage.
Gallagher hopes the committee will help shape China policy and legislation that can garner support from both sides. But with the 2024 presidential campaign looming, and Republicans eager to portray Joe Biden as “weak on China,” the potential for bipartisan action is likely to narrow rapidly.
“Time is not on our side,” he said, calling on a divided Congress to come together to confront China. “Our policy in the next 10 years will set the stage for the next hundred years.”
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, the panel’s ranking Democrat, echoed Gallagher’s sense of urgency. He said that Democrats and Republicans had “underestimated” the Chinese government for years, believing that economic integration would “inevitably lead to democracy”. But it didn’t happen and now America needs to move fast to pursue economic and trade policies that will “up our game” as Americans to compete with China.
“We don’t want war within the PRC,” he said, referring to the People’s Republic of China, “not a cold war, not a hot war. We don’t want a clash of civilizations.
The proceedings, which lasted for hours, presented a rare display of cross-party unity in an otherwise bitterly divided Congress. It featured two former advisers to Donald Trump: former national security adviser HR McMaster and former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, a China expert who resigned after the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Offering a comprehensive overview of China’s rise, Pottinger said the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) success in projecting itself as “responsible” and “normal” was “one of the great magic tricks of the modern age”. Was.
“You could say that the CCP is the Harry Houdini of the Marxist-Leninist regime; the David Copperfield of communism; The Criss Angel of despotism,” he said. “But the magic is fading.”
McMaster said that the US and Western leaders were guilty of decades of “wishful thinking and self-delusion” in their efforts to integrate China into the international system. But he expressed hope that the panel’s work could help lay the groundwork for “rebuilding the competitive advantage of America and the free world” in Washington.
The panel met in the same chandeliered room as the House Select Committee hearing on the January 6 attack on the Capitol. In the audience were Hong Kong pro-democracy activists as well as anti-war protesters, who disrupted the proceedings, one shouting “This committee is about sabers, this is not about peace” as they were escorted from the hearing room. was given.
Several members commented on the intervention, noting that the right to protest was a hallmark of American democracy and that freedom was not granted to those in China.
Highlighting human rights concerns will be a major focus of the panel. On Tuesday, the panel heard testimony from Tong Yi, a human rights activist who was a former secretary to one of China’s leading dissidents, Wei Jingsheng. Yi told how he was arrested and detained by the CCP in the 1990s. After spending nine months in a detention center he was accused of “disturbing the social order” and sentenced to two and a half years in a labor camp.
“In America, we need to face up to the fact that we have helped feed the CCP’s baby dragon until it is no longer large,” she said.
The committee also heard from Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, who argued that American dependence on China has had a huge impact on American workers and wages. “While conflict with China is not inevitable, fierce economic competition is,” he said.
On Capitol Hill, about efforts to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, a bill barring Chinese citizens and companies from buying land near sensitive military sites, and limiting US exports and technology trade to China A bipartisan consensus has emerged. But there are also sharp divisions.
Republicans continued to attack Biden over his response to the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, which was shot down by the US military after it took off over North America.
Asked during the hearing what message China was hoping to send with the balloon, McMaster said he believed it could be a “metaphor for a massive effort at espionage” Beijing is using around the world. I am doing China has denied that the airship was used for espionage, claiming it was a civilian plane that was blown up en route.
Meanwhile, revelations that the US Department of Energy concluded with “low confidence” that the Covid-19 pandemic was the result of a laboratory leak in China has renewed a partisan debate over the origins of the virus. Officials in Washington have said that US agencies do not agree on the origin of the virus.
Critics of the panel have raised concerns that the heated rhetoric to China as America’s enemy will fuel anti-Asian sentiment amid a rise in hate crimes. In addressing those fears directly, Krishnamurthy would avoid “anti-Chinese or Asian stereotyping at all costs”.
“We must recognize that the CCP wants us to be fractious, biased and prejudiced – in fact, the CCP hopes for it,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing focused on countering the growing national security threats posed by China. Testifying before the panel, Daniel Krittenbrink, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said China represented “our most consequential geopolitical challenge”.
Joan E Grieve contributed to this report