AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
In an unusual primetime hearing on Tuesday night, a newly formed House committee focused on competition with China described the U.S. relationship with the communist country as an “existential struggle,” highlighting an increasingly hardline stance from Republicans towards Beijing.
Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, Republican leadership pledged action to hold China accountable for a slate of offenses, ranging from intellectual property theft to human rights abuses and continued obfuscation on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The House GOP took the first step toward delivering on that promise in January by forming the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.
In a Fox News op-ed outlining the mission of the committee, Chairman Mike Gallagher (R-WI) wrote that U.S. leaders “must recognize that China’s ‘peaceful rise’ was pure fiction and finally confront the CCP with the urgency the threat demands.” According to Gallagher, this effort includes bringing supply chains out of China and back to the United States, ending American dependence on Chinese rare earth minerals, countering China’s debt-trap diplomacy, combatting intellectual property theft, and exposing Beijing’s attempts to infiltrate American businesses and academic institutions.
The committee’s inaugural hearing Tuesday took place amid a backdrop of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing following the spy balloon drama that gripped the country for more than a week in February and the release of a new report earlier this week in which the Department of Energy concluded, along with the FBI, that a lab leak was the most likely origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his opening remarks, Gallagher described competition with China as “an existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century — and the most fundamental freedoms are at stake.”
“Just because this Congress is divided, we cannot afford to waste the next two years lingering in legislative limbo or pandering for the press. We must act with a sense of urgency. Our policy over the next 10 years will set the stage for the next hundred,” Gallagher said.
Countering China has been a rare opportunity for bipartisan collaboration this Congress. The resolution to create the Strategic Competition Committee passed overwhelmingly 365-65, with 146 Democrats joining Republicans to approve the measure. House Speaker McCarthy has also stressed the importance of bipartisan cooperation on the issue, saying that “we want the very best ideas, and it doesn’t matter where they come from.”
However, it is undoubtedly Republicans who have moved the political consensus toward a more hardline stance on China. In 2020, Democrats rejected a similar effort by House Republicans to create a bipartisan China task force. Democrats also labeled any criticism of China’s handling of COVID as “racist” and a “conspiracy theory” throughout 2020 and 2021, and have repeatedly downplayed the threat from Chinese infiltration into American universities.
It was only thanks to persistent Republican efforts in the face of relentless media attacks that the American people and the world finally learned the truth about the CCP’s suspicious actions in the months leading up the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Republicans have demanded more transparency, public opinion has rapidly shifted in favor of a “tough-on-China” approach that Democrats carefully avoided just a few years ago. House Republicans’ decision to hold Tuesday’s hearing in primetime rather than the usual daytime slot is yet another reflection of the importance with which the GOP is treating the issue.
Despite this newfound sense of bipartisan cooperation, however, the hearing was not without drama, as the proceedings were temporarily disrupted by protestors. At least two protestors entered the hearing room, one with a sign reading “China is not our enemy.” A press release from the group CODEPINK: Women for Peace, which claimed credit for organizing the protest, said that “the formation of this committee and these hearings do nothing but drive hate on Asian Americans,” and “our common enemy is the climate crisis.”
Once the protestors were escorted from the chamber, one of the committee’s witnesses, former Trump national security advisor General H.R. McMaster (ret.), said that such protests are an example of how China’s United Front Work Department – a secretive branch of the CCP that attempts to influence people and organizations outside China – attempts to sway public opinion in favor of China and against the United States. “Just the scale of what they’re doing from an economic perspective and from an espionage perspective, I think is unprecedented,” McMaster said.
Moving forward, Gallagher has said that, instead of the traditional long report usually issued by select committees, the committee will issue a number of smaller reports recommending specific legislation. Gallagher hopes that input from Republicans and Democrats will ensure that the proposed bills can pass a divided Congress.
Chinese officials were incensed over the hearing on Wednesday, calling it “cold war thinking” tainted by “ideological bias.” Based on that reaction, it seems a good bet that House Republicans are over the target.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.