More aggressive adventurism, restored McCarthyism alarming as GOP-led House approves setting new committee targeting China
Published: Jan 12, 2023 12:21 AM
US House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is followed by reporters as he heads to the Capitol Hill in Washington on January 3, 2023. McCarthy failed to win the 218 votes required to become Speaker. Photo: VCG

 Kevin McCarthy at the Capitol Hill in Washington on January 3, 2023. Photo: VCG

Bipartisan lawmakers from the US House of Representatives have voted to set up a new GOP-led select committee to address Beijing's "multifaceted threats," the first anti-China step after Republican Kevin McCarthy sealed the House Speaker seat after a historical grueling stalemate in the new Congress voting. 

Chinese experts said on Wednesday that the new panel, which is called House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the US and the Communist Party of China, has a strong ideological overtone, and China should be wary of the more aggressive adventurism and destructive behavior of American politicians.

For Biden's Democratic administration, managing Republican-created crisis and keeping US external environment stable may be a better way to demonstrate its leadership and deal with the current "China-centered" partisan rivalry than to race in the anti-China competition with the extreme Republicans, they said. 

The House members on Tuesday (ET) voted 365 in favor of establishing the committee, with 65, or about one third of the Democrats, opposing the motion. McCarthy's close ally Mike Gallagher is expected to chair the committee, which will feature 16 members, including 9 Republicans and 7 Democrats.

According to CNBC, the committee will be investigative instead of legislative. And it will also be given jurisdiction to call witnesses and hold public hearings. McCarthy said the committee's mission will "investigate and submit policy recommendations on the status of the Communist Party of China's (CPC) economic, technological, and security progress and its competition with the US, US media reported. 

Chinese experts said the committee may be endowed with the ability to raise the voice of anti-China public opinion, and may even send its members to visit Taiwan for provocation, and conspire with forces secretly engaged in subverting the Chinese government to undermine the Chinese political system.

Wang Wenbin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said at a routine press conference on Wednesday that China hopes the relevant US politicians will view China and China-US relations in an objective and rational way, and work with China to advance China-US relations featuring development, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation based on its own interests and the common interests of China and the US.

McCarthyism restored by McCarthy

The House's approval of the new select committee also means the fulfillment of Speaker McCarthy's goal of setting a Congress panel targeting China. In May 2020, when McCarthy was the House Minority leader, he announced the formation of the GOP's "China Task Force," a committee of 15 Republican lawmakers to address "China's challenge." Ahead of the midterm election in 2022, he said House Republicans would create a select committee on China. 

The committee is obviously an updated version of the previous ones McCarthy introduced, said Diao Daming, an expert on US studies and associate professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing. He told the Global Times that growing pressure from ultra-conservatives in recent years has reinforced McCarthy's tendency to become more aggressive and irrational on China.

Lü Xiang, an expert on US studies and a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the CPC's presence on the committee's name illustrates its strong ideological overtones.

Lü said, "Smearing and denigrating the CPC in the ideological field will likely be the focus of the committee." 

"Some US politicians have interpreted Chinese people's minor grievances in daily life as a sign that China's political system is collapsing. Under this illusion, they are likely to take adventurist actions and cooperate with "covert subversive forces" to carry out drastic acts of sabotage against China's political system," he said. "This is not unthinkable, as both McCarthy and Gallagher are utterly reckless politicians."

Analysts said that the new committee's focus on the CPC as its ideological enemy is reminiscent of Joseph McCarthy, the Republican senator well known for hyping internal "communist threats." 

"McCarthy is restoring McCarthyism," said Lü. "We have seen before that in the 1950s, the Chinese Americans and 'communists' in all fields were censored and even convicted in the US. And it may appear again ... The new committee may look for people with ties to China and dig up evidence of 'damaging national security.' The US business and academic people who are relatively close to China are likely to be the targets."

They may also seek out anti-China figures in every corner of society to create a huge anti-China public opinion field similar to the 1950s, said the expert. 

Judy Chu, a Chinese-American who chairs the Asian Pacific American Caucus in Congress, has expressed opposition to the new committee, citing the known risks of xenophobic rhetoric intensifying anti-Asian hate in the US. 

"We cannot forget that rhetoric used around economic competition with Asian countries has resulted in the verbal and physical harassment and even murder of Asian Americans here at home. Since March 2020 and former President Trump's sustained references to the coronavirus as the 'China virus,' over 11,500 hate crimes and incidents against Asian Americans have been reported," she said in a statement on Tuesday. 

Growing risks

Experts believe that with the GOP in control of the House, the risk of conflict between the US and China is growing. For the Biden administration, it also means a narrowing policy space.

For China in the next two years, it is imperative to be fully vigilant against US' adventurism in all aspects. Our primary task is to prevent and deal with the unexpected, whether it involves China's political security or the "untimed bombs" in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea.

In the face of huge political, economic, cultural and social divisions in the US, China is almost the only topic that can unite the US politicians. By setting a new committee, the Republicans have used their House majority to dominate an agenda to show they are ahead of the Democrats, Lü said. 

The new China select committee will be a "key gripper" for McCarthy and the Republicans to "jostle for the steering wheel" of US' China policy, and for the GOP-controlled House to compete with the White House over a race of being tougher against China, Diao said. 

According to Diao, Biden has the potential to compromise and even collude with GOP on some China-related issues with a GOP-led House. But Democrats control the Senate, and if Biden does not want partisanship or the Republicans' hard-line approach to China to seriously disrupt bilateral relations and cooperation, the new committee will be less useful at the legislative process. 

In that case, the committee is more likely to downgrade its tricks to hearings on China-related issues or dispatching lawmakers to the Taiwan region, he added. 

The Biden administration needs to be aware that in the face of a more hysterical GOP and House, it can better demonstrate its leadership by choosing to manage the crisis created by the GOP at its own pace, and conducting great power competition on the basis of maintaining a stable external environment for the US, rather than launching a race of being tough against China at the pace of the GOP, Diao said. 

If the White House acts as a regulator, it will at least mean that there are channels of communication between China and the US that will keep the relationship from getting worse, Diao noted.