U.S. lawmakers began a wide-ranging two-year investigation into U.S. strategic competition with China Tuesday night, with testimony from Chinese human rights activists and former U.S. national security advisers.
The start of the probe came two weeks after the United States shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast.
“This is an existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century. And the most fundamental freedoms are at stake,” said Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher, chair of the 24-member House Select Committee on Strategic Competition with China. “The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is laser-focused on its vision for the future, a world crowded with techno totalitarian surveillance states where human rights are subordinate to the whims of the party.”
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, the top Democrat on the committee, highlighted the need for bipartisan cooperation.
“We must recognize that the CCP wants us to be fractious, partisan and prejudiced,” Krishnamoorthi said. “In fact, the CCP hopes for it. But what they don’t get is that the diversity of our viewpoints and backgrounds is not a bug in America’s operating system. It is our defining feature and strength.”
Former national security advisers who served during the administration of President Donald Trump warned lawmakers at the hearing Tuesday that the United States must make up ground with China.
“United States and other nations across the free world underwrote the erosion of their competitive advantages through the transfer of capital and technology to a strategic competitor,” H.R. McMaster told the committee.
President Joe Biden said earlier this year that the United States is in competition with China, not in conflict. But witnesses told the panel that China sees the relationship differently.
“There’s really no excuse anymore for being fooled about Beijing’s intentions,” former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger said. “And the canon of Chairman Xi’s publicly available statements is too voluminous, and the accumulated actions of his regime to brazen, to be misunderstood this late hour.”
The committee’s wide-ranging exploration will allow for new perspectives on security threats. Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse told VOA he is concerned about Chinese land purchases in agricultural areas of the United States.
“Can you imagine anything more precarious than having our food supply — perhaps only a link in that food supply chain — being compromised in a potential conflict with someone that is not our friend?” said Newhouse, who is co-sponsoring legislation on the matter.
Members of the committee also told VOA that China’s surveillance balloon is only a small part of the security threat.
“It’s literally every day on the phones of Americans, and that the threat doesn’t end there — China is a massive military threat,” Republican Congressman Dusty Johnson said. “Their navy is larger, and many argue more powerful, than America’s. They have more intercontinental ballistic missile launchers than the United States does. Their capabilities and things like hypersonics far outstrip where America is today.”
While the first hearing focused on security concerns, the committee’s work is expected to address a wide range of issues in the relationship – from economic and agricultural competition to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee is considering hearings outside Capitol Hill for a firsthand look at possible threats to critical infrastructure.