China poses a greater threat to American interests than did the Soviet Union, Republicans and Democrats on a new House select committee heard on Tuesday in the group’s first televised hearing.
H.R. McMaster served as national security adviser to former President Donald Trump between 2017 and 2018. He said: “Because of the complexity of it, especially the interconnectedness of China with the global economy. And the scale of what they’re doing from an economic perspective and from an espionage perspective, I think, is unprecedented.”
The retired Army lieutenant general told Rep. Carlos Gimenez of Florida, one of 13 Republicans on the committee: “We never gave the Soviet Union the kind of access that we gave to Chinese Communist Party operatives… based on this fundamentally flawed assumption that China, having been welcomed into the international order, would play by the rules.”
The bipartisan panel examining all aspects of the “strategic competition” between the United States and China’s long-ruling Communist Party was stood up in early January by a bipartisan vote. It was created against the backdrop of an intensifying Sino-American rivalry.
The U.S. response remained divided between “realists” and “wishful thinkers,” Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, the committee’s Republican chair, said last week in an interview with Newsweek.
The inaugural hearing on Capitol Hill invited expert testimony from McMaster; his fellow Trump-era national security adviser Matthew Pottinger; Chinese human-rights advocate Tong Yi; and Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Discussions ranged from China’s role in the ongoing fentanyl crisis to long-term implications for U.S. economic security.
“Time is not on our side. Just because this Congress is divided, we cannot afford to waste the next two years lingering in legislative limbo or pandering to the press. We must act with a sense of urgency,” Gallagher said in his opening statement. “I believe our policy over the next 10 years will set the stage for the next hundred. We cannot allow the CCP’s tech-powered dystopia to prevail.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois is the ranking member and one of 11 Democrats on the panel. He said both parties had “underestimated the CCP and assumed that trade and investment would inevitably lead to democracy and greater security in the Indo-Pacific region, including in the [People’s Republic of China]. Instead, the opposite happened.”
One of the committee’s tasks, lawmakers say, is to show the American public how China’s foreign and security policies could impact their daily lives. Pottinger, who was Trump’s deputy national security adviser from 2019 to 2021, spoke in favor of a federal ban on TikTok. There have been data privacy concerns linked to its Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance.
TikTok offers Beijing a “universe of potential abuse,” Pottinger said. “There’s nothing in Chinese law that suggests the Chinese Communist Party would back off of its legislative privilege to access all of the data produced by social-media platforms and other Chinese apps. I simply don’t think that it’s possible to mitigate in a credible way against that threat.”
“But the bigger coup for the Chinese Communist Party, if TikTok is permitted to continue operating in the United States, and if WeChat and other platforms are allowed to continue to operate, is that it gives the Chinese Communist Party the ability to manipulate our social discourse, the news, to censor and suppression, or to amplify what tens of millions of Americans see and read, and experience and hear, through their social-media app,” Pottinger said.
The White House this week gave all federal agencies 30 days to purge TikTok from government devices on national security grounds. It was followed by a similar order issued by the European Union across all its institutions.
TikTok says it hasn’t shared user information with the Chinese government and wouldn’t do so if asked by Beijing. The social-media company argues the sweeping bans lack evidence.
Another subject raised at the committee hearing was the security of Taiwan, the democratically governed island claimed by Beijing and backed by Washington. Gallagher visited Taipei in February, and Krishnamoorthi made a high-profile trip alongside fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, then speaker of the House, last August.
McMaster, whose opening remarks were interrupted by two anti-war protesters, told Krishnamoorthi that a preemptive attack on American soil was possible in the event of a U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan, which opposes Beijing’s sovereignty claims.
“It’s possible. We know the [People’s Liberation Army] is training for the likelihood that the U.S. would be part of the fight, and that raises the escalatory pressure on China to try to eliminate U.S. capabilities right there in the Western Pacific to buy them time,” McMaster said.
“What [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping sees is a fleeting window of opportunity, an opportunity to move while he perceives weakness in the United States,” added McMaster. He believes upcoming presidential elections in Taiwan and the U.S.—both in 2024—could be viewed by Beijing as useful distractions.
“There’s no question in my mind that we, America, are the good guys—we are the good guys—that, even on our worst day, the rest of the world is still looking to us for leadership,” Gallagher said, in closing remarks at the end of the three-hour session.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning on Wednesday called on members of the House panel to “abandon their ideological bias and zero-sum Cold War mentality, take an objective and rational view of China and China-U.S. relations, stop spreading the ‘China threat theory’ based on disinformation, stop slandering the Chinese Communist Party, and stop trying to score political points at the expense of China-U.S. relations.”
“The recent Chinese spy-balloon saga served as a wake-up call to the American people regarding China’s malign intentions,” said Craig Singleton, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. “In many ways, it was the first tangible moment most Americans have experienced in Washington’s modern-day rivalry with Beijing.”
“Simply put, new international battle lines are being drawn, and an anxious American people deserve to understand what specific steps Washington intends to take in response to worsening U.S.-China relations,” he told Newsweek.
“As the U.S. prepares to wage a renewed era of great-power competition, the committee has a unique opportunity to demonstrate how the U.S. can and should remain true to its values and the sources of America’s national strength, namely our shared diversity, which represents the sum of China’s fears,” Singleton said.
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