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What does Republicans controlling the House of Representatives mean for US-China tensions?


Both Democrats and Republicans have been more vigilant about China in recent years, but the former more often point to the rise of the Asian country as a threat to US economic and national security.

By Megan Lebowitz -

NBC News

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans have vowed to get tougher on China as they prepare to take control of the House of Representatives, encouraging critics of Beijing but also raising concerns that one of the most important bilateral relations of Washington could be further destabilized.

Both Democrats and Republicans have grown more vigilant about China in recent years, but Republicans more often frame China's rise as a threat to America's economic and national security.

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Although Democrats retained control of the Senate in last month's midterm elections, Republicans are now in a stronger position to scrutinize President Joe Biden's policies on China with their slim majority in the House of Representatives. Representatives.

“Whatever the Biden administration does, the Republican opposition is going to move to its right and say it's not enough,” Graham Allison, a professor of government at Harvard University and former assistant secretary of defense under former President Bill Clinton, told NBC News. .

Tensions due to COVID-19

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican candidate for the presidency of the House of Representatives, has said he would like to lead a congressional delegation to Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing claims as its territory.

Such a visit would infuriate China, which responded to a similar visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the summer with unprecedented military drills. 

McCarthy also says he plans to create a House select committee on China, the first since the late 1990s.

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“The Chinese Communist Party is the greatest geopolitical threat of our time,” he said in a statement last week announcing that the committee would be led by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin.

According to a blog post on McCarthy's website, the committee will "investigate and offer policy recommendations on how the United States can win the economic and technological competition" with China in areas such as trade, supply chain security, and security. of intellectual property.

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House Republicans will also investigate the origins of the coronavirus and “the role of the CCP in its spread,” according to the blog, though it is unclear if that investigation will be part of the committee.

A report released Wednesday night by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said they have "reason to believe that [the intelligence community] downplayed the possibility that SARS-CoV2 was related to the program." bioweapons from China.

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On Thursday, a House Intelligence report signed by Speaker Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) found that early in the pandemic, the intelligence community "did not refocus its clandestine collection quickly enough."

The debate over the origins of the virus, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, “is something that drives China crazy,” said Ian Johnson, senior China fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Chinese officials have condemned the theory that the virus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory as a lie promoted by "anti-Chinese forces" for political reasons, and criticized the World Health Organization's suggestion to further investigate the theory.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California arrives to speak to the media outside the West Wing following a meeting between President Joe Biden and congressional leaders to discuss legislative priorities for the rest of the year, on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, at the White House in Washington. Andrew Harnik / AP

The pandemic is just one of the issues that have brought US-China relations to their lowest point in decades, along with disputes over trade, human rights and China's growing military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Tensions were further fueled in August by Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, the first by a sitting speaker of the US House of Representatives since 1997.

Biden's China policy has been largely the same as that of former President Donald Trump, who imposed tariffs on Chinese imports that led to a trade war, experts say.

In October, the Biden Administration went further, announcing sweeping export controls that limited China's access to strategically important semiconductor chips.

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While "responsibly managing" competition with China, the world's second-largest economy, the White House says it also welcomes cooperation on issues of global importance such as climate change, public health and nuclear non-proliferation. .

Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in person in Indonesia last month for the first time since Biden took office, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he plans to visit China early next year.

On Friday, Blinken announced the launch of a new China Liaison Office to "ensure the US government is able to responsibly manage our competition...and advance our vision of an open and inclusive international system." 

Bipartisan attack on China?

However, US-China relations could be disrupted by an atmosphere of political confrontation over China in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, according to Michael O'Hanlon, director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution.

“They may decide that it is good policy to indulge in more attacks on China, to try to paint Biden as weak on this issue, depending on how they decide to run against him in 2024,” he said.

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Some Republicans criticized the White House's response to protests in China against "zero-COVID" testing, which were the biggest display of public unrest the country had seen in decades, with some protesters calling for Xi's resignation.

The White House defended the right of Chinese citizens to protest peacefully but refrained from criticizing Beijing, in what some experts saw as an attempt to avoid supporting the Chinese government's claims that the protests were fueled by "foreign forces". .

McCarthy and other Republicans opined that Biden should have gone further.

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“As Chinese citizens bravely protest, Joe Biden and the business class shrug their shoulders,” the Republican leader said on Twitter.

“Our Select Committee on China will do what Biden refuses: finally reckon with the pariah that is the CCP.”

Similarly, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted: “When you speak up for freedom, it terrifies the tyrants of China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

But what does Joe Biden do?

He appeases and shows weakness before all of them.”

The Chinese government will closely monitor the actions of the new Congress, said Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Shanghai Fudan University. 

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“I think he is concerned about the prospect of a new Congress getting tough on China,” he said.

At the same time, "Beijing would also welcome the opportunity to improve the bilateral relationship." 

House Republicans could try to get tougher on China than the Biden and Trump administrations, neither of which has been especially aggressive, said Derek Scissors, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

But if the select committee takes a bipartisan approach, the House of Representatives may be able to originate legislation that becomes law.

Some Republicans and Democrats have already found common ground on China legislation, pushing bipartisan bills to ban TikTok, which has a China-based parent company, and restrict Huawei's access to American banks.

"If it can't be done on a bipartisan basis, there's still a public relations effort to raise China's profile to the American people and even to people in Washington," Scissors said.

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Pro-business elements of the Republican Party could also serve as a moderating force.

The most volatile issue in US-China relations is the status of Taiwan, which Beijing has not ruled out taking by force.

Although the White House maintains that its "one China" policy has not changed, there is bipartisan support in Congress for strengthening Washington's unofficial ties with Taipei, as well as scattered calls for the United States to commit to defending Taiwan against any Chinese invasion.

Lawmakers from both parties have been visiting Taiwan with increasing frequency, prompting protests from Beijing.

It's almost as if McCarthy "had to do it to prove his bona fides," Johnson said.

According to Allison, these trips have more to do with politics than with national security or the interests of the United States.

A McCarthy visit would be "as irresponsible and reckless as his predecessor's was and would be another big step forward for China in demonstrating its ability to strangle Taiwan," he opined.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat) leaves the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament house, on August 3, 2022 in Taipei, Taiwan. Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

Wu agreed: “I think China's response to Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan basically set a precedent for China to follow in the future,” he said, adding that if McCarthy visits the country, it will be “a huge shock in relations between China and the United States.

A McCarthy spokesman told NBC News last week there was no word on a possible trip to Taiwan.

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Johnson said it was also China's responsibility to put moves by US lawmakers in context and not react with full force to actions that might be deliberately provocative. 

“I think if they are able to gauge their response, that could be a sign that they want to improve relations with the United States,” he said.

“If they really get angry about these things, then I think it is a sign that they are not able to control the hawks in their own government either.”

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-12-18

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