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Foreign Policy

Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and China

Mar 24, 2023

Within the last few weeks U.S.-China relations have seemed to spiral out of control. During Biden’s State of The Union Speech he stated, “as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country.” And we did. Recently, President Xi issued a rare direct statement: “Western countries led by the U.S. have implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedentedly severe challenges to our country’s development.” China falsely blames its growth and development challenges on America’s containment policies. On January 10, 2023, The House of Representatives formally created the United States House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. Although the committee's creation was Republican-driven, the overwhelming number of people who voted for its establishment, 365-65, demonstrates the increasingly bipartisan support for tougher action relating to China.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California first announced the committee's creation in December 2022 and appointed Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) as chair. Gallagher, a known China-hawk, has a proven track record of working with Democrats on issues relating to China. In addition, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) will serve as the committee's ranking member. Previously, he supported legislation targeting China's technological sector, including co-sponsoring a bill with Rep. Gallagher. The other known members of the committee are, similarly, known to be hawkish towards China, with some also engaging in bipartisanship regarding stern action on China.

Chairman Gallagher has outlined the agenda of the committee to work on addressing potential threats from China through legislation and highlighting these issues to the American public as well. He has prioritized a need to look at areas relating to security. Other criticism has focused on Chinese land purchases near U.S. military bases, initiatives in the Indo-Pacific with American allies, Taiwan, and more. Social issues, such as the CCP's influence in the U.S., will also be scrutinized. Economically, securing supply chains and a more stable source of rare earth minerals have also been emphasized by Gallagher.

Alternatively, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi has emphasized that the committee should focus on Chinese practices that undermine U.S. economic and trade policies. However, it is still unclear how far Democrat committee members will permit their Republican counterparts to push for more hawkish rhetoric and policies.

The committee signifies Congress's commitment to exert more significant influence on an increasingly hostile U.S.-China relationship. It has already established itself in the media as a tool against Chinese coercion and hostile action. As Chairman Gallagher recently stated, the U.S. and China are locked in "an existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century." Moreover, in the committee's most recent hearing, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster highlighted the importance of the committee's efforts to help accelerate the United States' capability to catch up with China's rapid modernization. Regarding the nature of the committee, McMaster also stated, "Authoritarian regimes are brittle. Democracies are resilient. This committee is an example of why we should be confident. Americans have a say in how we are governed and can demand better policies to compete with the CCP."

Beijing has not responded positively to the committee's formation and member selection. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning recently stated that members should "discard their ideological bias and zero-sum Cold War mentality."

Additionally, it is vital that businesses pay attention to the committee's developments. As the committee takes a closer look at the economic side of U.S. interaction with China and geopolitical tensions increase, the committee's action will most likely make it more challenging to conduct business in China and with Chinese entities. This includes U.S. multinational corporations, their investments in China, and scrutiny over the NBA, Hollywood, etc. Sequoia Capital recently announced that they are consulting with outside experts to ensure its investments in China fully comply with U.S. regulatory standards. The committee is also an effort to ensure U.S. companies do not contribute to China's military modernization or that capital is used nefariously.

It is essential to highlight that the committee's purpose is not to take steps toward reconciliation between the U.S. and China nor promote constructive engagement. The commission comprises congressional members with a history of anti-Chinese rhetoric and aggressive action taken against the CCP. This has proven to be one of the few areas of bipartisanship. As such, hawkish attitudes and actions from its members will most likely continue to be the norm. In all likelihood, this new mechanism to spotlight perceived Chinese aggression will harden American attitudes towards Beijing and the CCP.

It will also make it harder for the Biden administration to pursue more amicable relations with Beijing in the future. The committee will not only ignite fears among the American public of real or perceived threats from China but will also anger officials in Beijing. This will increase reticence and desire to pursue closer relations in the future.

What is missing from the committee is any attempt to focus on common areas of national interest between the U.S. and China. For example, preventing conflict in the future, developing non-dual use of climate technology, and stopping the opioid crisis. By not addressing any of these areas of cooperation, the committee puts us on a path of permanent contention. We must be able to find a mission with a common purpose and a path forward.   

However, this is not to say there are no benefits to the committee. The Ukraine-Russia War has further highlighted China's role in the world contrary to that of a responsible actor. There are issues, both economically and militarily, that need to be addressed. As geopolitical tensions flare between the two countries, issues such as semiconductors and China's possession of them through the U.S. supply chain and Taiwan will be of greater consequence. A recent Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report highlighted,"China is now leading the world in 37 out of 44 key technologies, including hypersonic missiles, artificial intelligence, drones and electric batteries." The committee represents a mechanism congress can use to ensure these issues get proper attention and action is taken to ensure the U.S. remains competitive and alert on the global stage. Furthermore, the committee can advocate for the United States to take a larger role as a leader in addressing major global challenges.  

Ultimately, the committee will look to close the gap in several areas where American economic and military sector deficiencies are apparent. It is important to note that the committee has clarified that its aim is not to focus on the Chinese people and citizens. Instead, it will focus on the government, whom it considers a malignant actor domestically and internationally. Although the committee's aim and purpose are essential, it is also vital we monitor the manner in which they conduct themselves and how it can impact future U.S.-China relations. As a country, we must be able to find a path forward toward durable coexistence and prevent conflict from occurring. 

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