Tuesday, April 23, 2024
HomeChinaCongress group says tackling China defines next century.

Congress group says tackling China defines next century.

Congress must act urgently to counter economic and national security threats posed by China, lawmakers on a newly created special House committee warned in its first primetime hearing.

China and the US are locked in an “existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century”, the Republican chairman, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, said.

With democracy advocates and protesters in attendance, the House select committee on the strategic competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist party began work at a precarious moment for US-China relations. Last month, a suspected Chinese spy balloon traversed the US. Beijing is considering providing lethal weapons to Russia in its war against Ukraine.

China’s militarization and aggression toward Taiwan and its response to the coronavirus pandemic have further escalated tensions.

Over more than three hours on Tuesday night, lawmakers and high-profile witnesses contemplated how the US can confront China’s economic rise and authoritarian turn. Members peppered the experts – two former Trump officials, a human rights activist and the president of a manufacturing group – with questions on human rights, trade, TikTok, Taiwan, espionage and Covid.

Gallagher hopes to help shape China policy and legislation that can win support from both parties. But with the 2024 presidential election looming, and Republicans eager to paint Joe Biden as “weak on China”, bipartisan action is increasingly unlikely.

“Time is not on our side,” Gallagher said, imploring Congress to confront China. “Our policy over the next 10 years will set the stage for the next hundred.”

Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, the ranking Democrat, said Democrats and Republicans had for years “underestimated” China, believing economic integration would “inevitably lead to democracy”. But it did not and now the US needed to move quickly to pursue policies that would “up our game”.

“We do not want a war with” the People’s Republic of China, he said. “Not a cold war, not a hot war. We don’t want a clash of civilizations.”

The hearing ​offered a rare display of unity in a​ divided Congress​. Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi stressed that their focus was the government of China, not its people.

The hearing featured two former advisers to Donald Trump: former national security adviser HR McMaster and his former deputy Matt Pottinger, a China expert.

Offering a sweeping overview of China’s rise, Pottinger said the success of the Chinese Communist party (CCP) at presenting itself as “responsible” and “normal” was “one of the great magic tricks of the modern era”.

“You could say the CCP is the Harry Houdini of Marxist-Leninist regimes; the David Copperfield of Communism; the Criss Angel of autocracy,” he said “But the magic is fading.”

McMaster said the west was guilty of decades of “wishful thinking and self-delusion” in its efforts to integrate China into the international system. But he expressed optimism that the panel could help lay the groundwork to “rebuild America’s and the free world’s competitive advantage”.

The panel met in the room where the House January 6 committee held hearings. Hong Kong pro-democracy activists attended, as did anti-war protesters who interrupted proceedings, one yelling “this committee is about saber-rattling, it’s not about peace” as he was removed.

Several members remarked on the interference, noting that the right to protest was a hallmark of American democracy not afforded in China.

On Tuesday, the panel heard compelling testimony from Tong Yi, a human rights activist and former secretary to one of China’s leading dissidents, Wei Jingsheng. Yi told how she was arrested and detained in the 1990s. After spending nine months in a detention center she was charged with “disturbing social order” and sentenced to two and a half years in a labor camp.

“In the US, we need to face the fact that we have helped feed the baby dragon of the CCP until it has grown into what it now is,” she said.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, argued that dependency on China has had a crushing impact on American workers.

“While conflict with China isn’t inevitable, fierce economic competition is,” he said.

A bipartisan consensus has emerged around measures banning TikTok, a Chinese-owned social media app, bills barring Chinese citizens and companies from purchasing land near sensitive military sites, and efforts to limit exports and technology trade. But there are also sharp divisions.

Republicans continue to assail Biden over his response to the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, which was downed by the US military.

​Asked what message China hoped to send with the balloon, McMaster said he believed it was probably a “metaphor for the massive effort at espionage” Beijing is carrying out around the world. China has denied the balloon was used for spying, ​​claiming it was a civilian aircraft blown off course​.

The revelation that the US energy department has concluded with “low confidence” that the Covid-19 pandemic was the result of a lab leak in China has inflamed partisan debate. Officials have said US agencies are not in agreement over the origin of Covid.

The House foreign affairs committee also held a hearing on Tuesday focused on countering threats posed by Beijing. Daniel Kritenbrink, US assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs, said China represented “our most consequential geopolitical challenge”.

Critics of the select committee have raised concerns that heated rhetoric casting China as an enemy would amplify anti-Asian sentiment amid a surge in hate incidents. Krishnamoorthi said the panel must avoid “anti-Chinese or Asian stereotyping at all costs”.

“We must recognize that the CCP wants us to be fractious, partisan and prejudiced – in fact, the CCP hopes for it,” he said.

Concluding the session, Gallagher said its length was akin to a blockbuster film, which was fitting given its narrative of “heroes and villains”.

“There’s no question in my mind that we, America, are the good guys,” he said.

Source: the guardian

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