The chairman of a new bipartisan committee on China in the United States House of Representatives has described the US-China rivalry as “an existential struggle” at the panel’s first hearing.
The meeting of the committee — formally known as the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — comes amid heightened tension between Beijing and Washington after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over North America was shot down.
“This is not a polite tennis match. This is an existential battle over what life will be like in the 21st century — and the most fundamental freedoms are at stake,” said Mike Gallagher, the committee’s Republican chairman, when he the hearing opened.
The top Democrat on the committee said the initiative was part of an effort to convince people in the US why they should compete with China, and to “selectively decouple” the economies of the two countries. The committee has strong support throughout the House and the vote to create it was a two-way vote, 365-65.
“For the past three decades, Democrats and Republicans alike have underestimated the CCP and assumed that trade and investment would inevitably lead to democracy and increased security in the Indo-Pacific… Instead, the opposite happened,” said Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois lawmaker. in his opening words.
“We don’t want war with the (People’s Republic of China), no cold war, no hot war,” Krishnamoorthi said. “We don’t want a clash of civilizations. But we are looking for lasting peace and that is why we must deter aggression.”
Tensions between the US and China have been rising for years, exacerbated by China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which emerged in 2019 in the central city of Wuhan, actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, aggression towards Taiwan and the recent spy balloon flight .
The new committee, made up of 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats, is expected to be at the center of lawmakers’ efforts to counter Beijing over the next two years and is likely to put pressure on US President Joe Biden to adopt a firmer position on China.
“It’s another indication of the negative shift, the downward spiral, in the U.S.-China relationship,” Michael Swaine, a Washington, DC-based Chinese security studies analyst, said of the commission.
Gallagher has assured those involved that the commission’s work could encourage anti-Asian hate crimes, and that he is ensuring that the focus is on the Chinese Communist Party, not the people of China.
‘Feeding the Dragon’
Tuesday’s hearing had four witnesses, including HR McMaster, a retired Army lieutenant general who was former Republican President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, and Matt Pottinger, a longtime Chinese hawk who was Trump’s deputy national security adviser.
McMaster said the US should prioritize expediting the delivery of billions of dollars worth of arms and ammunition that Taiwan has already purchased. “As we may have learned from Ukraine’s experience, it is much cheaper to deter a war than to fight one,” he said in his written testimony.
In a nod to growing US concerns about China’s influence over technology, Pottinger said Washington needs to work with US tech companies banned in China and find a way for people in China to get around the country’s strict internet censorship.
“I think you could punch holes in the great Chinese firewall,” Pottinger said.
Committee members have already held several events to draw attention to human rights issues related to China, including a gathering on Saturday outside what US officials say is an illegal Chinese Communist Party “police station” in New York City.
Gallagher sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last week requesting information about the alleged police posts. Beijing has denied operating such facilities in the US.
Some Chinese dissidents and lawyers also spoke at Tuesday’s hearing.
Tong Yi, who was arrested in the 1990s after serving as an interpreter for a leading dissident who had urged the US to link trade to China’s human rights record, added to the concerns. She spent nine months in detention before receiving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for “disturbing social order” and being sent to a labor camp, where she said authorities organized other inmates to beat her up.
Tong is now a naturalized US citizen.
“In the US, we have to face the fact that we helped feed the CCP’s baby dragon until it grew into what it is today,” she said.