WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday voted 365-65 to establish a special committee on China, and the lawmaker Republicans tapped to lead the bipartisan panel has vowed that Congress will use it to “win the new Cold War.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin — who served as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel in the last Congress — has laid out an agenda for the China committee that includes several key defense priorities. The 16-member committee will consist of nine Republicans and seven Democrats.
Gallagher told Defense News that while the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees as well as the Appropriations Committee’s defense panel would take the lead on defense-related issues, the China committee would serve as “an incubator or accelerator for [Chinese Communist Party]-related legislation.”
“As someone who’s spent a lot of the last six years focusing on how we restore deterrence in the Indo-Pacific and deter hot war over Taiwan, I think a lot of what we can do on the select committee is tease out sort of the why,” Gallagher said. “Why does this matter? Explain to the American people about why they should care about helping Taiwan defend itself and arming Taiwan to the teeth.”
He said that will entail hearings and reports aimed at outlining the ”repercussions on global financial markets if China attacked Taiwan” and “stitching together those pieces in a way they’re currently not stitched together.”
The committee could hold its first hearing as soon as February.
In addition to Taiwan, Gallagher intends to use the committee to address Beijing’s military modernization efforts and the U.S. defense-industrial base’s dependence on China.
“That’s not just purely a hard-power defense question,” he said. “You have to tease out the economic and financial implications of that.”
“As China uses its growing economy to modernize its military, we must also develop new weapons and stockpiles to project power, preserve our global influence, and protect our forces, including in space and cyberspace,” Gallagher wrote on Sunday in a Fox News op-ed that framed Sino-U.S. competition as a 21st century Cold War.
He wrote that the “first step is to restore our supply chains and end critical economic dependencies on China,” noting that it produces “90% of the world’s rare earth metals, alloys and permanent magnets.”
Congress made onshoring defense supply chains a priority last year, passing $52 billion in subsidies and other tax incentives for companies to produce semiconductors — which are needed to produce everything from Javelin anti-tank missiles to F-35 fighter jets — within the United States.
The fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act also doubled the net worth of the National Defense Stockpile — the U.S. strategic reserve of critical minerals — injecting it with $1 billion after years of atrophy and neglect. The stockpile includes critical minerals that are largely obtained from China, including antimony — a mineral needed to produce bullets and ammunition.
“We’re dangerously dependent on China for basic building blocks of our economy, resulting in shortages of critical products like semiconductors and rare earth minerals, both of which are largely produced in China today,” House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., said ahead of the vote.
In addition to traditional defense issues, the committee will have a wide remit that includes Republican priorities such as China’s role in exporting fentanyl and investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other initiatives that could garner bipartisan support include nascent efforts to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok and investigations into Chinese influence at U.S. universities.
Much of the legislation aimed at wrestling defense supply chains away from China emerged as proposals from House Republicans’ China Task Force in the last Congress. That partisan task force produced numerous bipartisan proposals among its more than 400 recommendations. It also liaised closely with Taiwan’s’ diplomatic office in Washington to address a multibillion-dollar backlog of arms sales to Taipei.
Gallagher said the China committee’s work will make it easier for the Foreign Affairs Committee to address the backlog of weapons that “have been approved but not delivered to Taiwan.”
Democrats opted to boycott the China Task Force shortly before its formation in 2020, accusing former President Donald Trump of scapegoating Beijing for his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many House Democrats expressed reservations about working with Republicans to establish the China committee, most voted in favor of establishing the panel amid assurances from GOP leaders that it would remain a bipartisan endeavor.
Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, voted to form the China panel but warned against turning it into a venue for “Republican conspiracy theories and partisan talking points” or “a place that perpetuates anti-Asian hate.”
Some Democrats who have served on the House Armed Services Committee expressed more confidence that the China committee would produce serious bipartisan work, including Reps. Ro Khanna of California and Ruben Gallego of Arizona.
Gallego, who chaired the intelligence and special operations panel last year, told Defense News in an interview on Tuesday that he would like to join the China committee.
“I think I could bring a lot of experience that I’ve gained — the experience I’ve taken from my subcommittee — as well as other experiences on the committee dealing in the [Indo-Pacific] area, as well as the Huaweis of the world and even things like TikTok,” Gallego said, referring to the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, which has been the target of scrutiny by the U.S.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., noted that he spoke with Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., about “what this committee will be and who we’ll be putting on it,” while praising Gallagher as a “focused and studied” lawmaker who would lead the panel in a bipartisan manner.
“We want serious lawmakers,” McCarthy said on the House floor. “This isn’t for somebody to go in and [go] viral because they want to make some point.”
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.