The Washington Post
At House hearing on Chinese Communist Party, a bipartisan show of concern
A newly formed House committee tasked with challenging China’s governing Communist Party held its debut hearing Tuesday with lawmakers unified in calls to confront what they said were Beijing’s efforts to sow division among Americans and undermine U.S. business interests and human rights values.
The show of unity in a bitterly divided Congress touched a nerve in Beijing, where officials say there have been ongoing discussions about how to handle a Republican-held House and a spate of recent hot-button issues that have threatened to derail tentative gains in a frosty U. S.- China relationship this year.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday slammed the committee’s three-hour hearing, calling it “cold war thinking” tainted by “ideological bias,” and urged U.S. lawmakers to “stop hijacking China-u.s. relations out of political self interest.”
The hearing, which covered topics including trade theft, military confrontation, fentanyl supply, human rights abuses and more, laid out a sweeping agenda of existential threats posed by Beijing. The committee is expected to be a focal point in how bipartisan China policy is developed over the next two years. Lawmakers said they are hoping to instill urgency in domestic policymakers, U.S. industry and Chinese companies, warning that the United States had underestimated Beijing.
“We may call this a ‘ strategic competition,’ but this is not a polite tennis match. This is an existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century — and the most fundamental freedoms are at stake,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-wis.), chairman of the committee, said in his opening remarks.
“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,” said Gallagher.
The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.), threw support behind the committee but said it must avoid racist stereotyping — a nod toward earlier concerns by some on the left that it could stoke anti-asian xenophobia. Despite those reservations, the vote to form the committee was bipartisan, 365- 65, with 146 Democrats joining Republicans in supporting the measure.
“We must recognize that the CCP wants us to be fractious, partisan and prejudiced. In fact, the CCP hopes for it,” Krishnamoorthi said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. “But what they don’t get is that the diversity of our view points and backgrounds is not a bug in America’s operating system,” he said.
The bipartisan challenge to Beijing comes amid a tense moment in U.S.- China relations, just weeks after the downing of a Chinese spy balloon upended plans for a high-level visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing. A new intelligence assessment from the Energy Department pointing to a lab in Wuhan, China, as the origin of covid-19 and a Biden administration warning to Beijing over potential arms sales to Russia have also stoked ire in China.
Last week, China’s Foreign Ministry released its own broad assessment of the United States, describing Washington as a “hegemonic,” “bullying” and “abusive” force in international relations. “The United States has long been attempting to mold other countries and the world order with its own values and political system in the name of promoting democracy and human rights,” read the statement.
While lawmakers found common ground on the threat China poses, their policy prescriptions differed. Gallagher and fellow Republicans described a “strategic decoupling” amid a century-defining “existential struggle” against Chinese threats abroad and within the United States. “The CCP has found friends on Wall Street, in Fortune 500 Csuites and on K Street who are ready and willing to oppose efforts to push back,” said Gallagher, who said he would prioritize freeing up a backlog of weapons to Taiwan among other measures.
Democrats meanwhile favored changes to strengthen domestic policy and investment as well as steps to safeguard democratic structures at home. Krishnamoorthi said the committee should focus on boosting competitiveness with China “through investments in technologies of the future, workforce improvement, and by fixing weaknesses in our economy such as in our supply chain and even our legal immigration system.”
In Beijing, officials speaking before and after the hearing said there have been intense discussions since late last year over how China’s leaders can weather a more hawkish House under Republican leadership.
“This subject matter of this conference means nothing. It’s not based on fact. It’s confirmation of what we already know for some time — that bashing China is a dangerous trend in U.S. political thinking,” said one Chinese official in Beijing, referring to the hearing. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject.
“But the Chinese side is prepared for a scenario where it has no partners,” said the person, referring to the U.S. Congress. “The Chinese side has always been prepared for that outcome, prepared for political manipulation in the United States.”
Analysts say China will probably be watching closely to see how the committee’s hawkish start will be translated into executive action or further attempts to contain Beijing.
“All in all, I think the Chinese have already considered Congress a lost cause for China. There’s nothing they can do to improve the Congress’s action and … perceptions. That’s always been the case in their view,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center in Washington.
Among those who testified at Tuesday’s hearing were former national security adviser H.R. Mcmaster and former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, both of whom served in the Trump White House and issued fiery warnings about the threat of Chinese military buildup and surveillance through social media app Tiktok.
“This committee can help the United States catch up in the competition with the CCP. It can do so by holding hearings to reveal the nature of the CCP aggression and what is at stake for Americans and citizens of the free world,” said Mcmaster, who spoke about how for decades the United States had misjudged a rising China.
Midway though Mcmaster’s testimony he was interrupted by two demonstrators holding signs, one of which read “China is not our enemy,” before they were escorted from the chambers.