Hi, China Watchers. U.S. midterm elections are just 33 days away so we’ve polled ranking Republican members of key congressional committees about their China-focus plans under a possible GOP House majority. We’ll also parse lawmakers’ security concerns about quarantined U.S. diplomats in China and examine the Chinese government’s sneaky effort to rebrand Tibet. And after four weeks of Xi Jinping books to prep you for the 20th Party Congress, we profile a book urging “conditional competitive cooperation” with Beijing to avoid a Cold War.
And mark your calendar: Join me Wednesday Oct. 12 at 10 a.m. ET for a POLITICO Live event “U.S., China and Xi Jinping’s New Era” to unpack the implications for U.S.-China relations posed by Xi’s ascendance. Speakers include U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) and Susan Shirk, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and chair of the 21st Century China Center at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. Register here: https://uschinaandxijinpingsnewera.splashthat.com/newsletter
Let’s get to it. — Phelim
Republicans are favored to retake the House.
I talked to GOP ranking members on key House committees to get a sneak peek at their China priorities in the next Congress. I’ve distilled highlights of those interviews, edited for length and clarity
Rep. JOHN KATKO (R-N.Y.): Ranking member House Committee on Homeland Security
Cyber, supply chains and fentanyl
We are going to be laser focused on China threat issues.
The Dem majority has utterly failed to highlight the long-term threats that China poses. There are so many instances where this administration has not stood up to the Chinese menace. Confucius Institutes still operate here. We didn’t take a tough stand with respect to the Beijing Winter Olympics. We didn’t clap back hard enough, if at all, knowing about China’s state sponsored cyberattacks against the United States.
We’re going to have a laser focus on supply chains, because supply chain security is homeland security and right now, we don’t have it. The CHIPS Act is a very important first step, but that’s not nearly enough. We need to engage in more detailed and rigorous analysis of nearshoring and reshoring and bringing production back out of China to the Western Hemisphere
There’s a lot we can do with Customs and Border Protection for the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. There are things we can do with respect to China shipping fentanyl through Mexico into the U.S. and the devastation that’s causing to young American lives. We’re not doing enough oversight to highlight that.
Rep. FRANK LUCAS (R-Okla.): Ranking member House Committee on Science, Space and Technology
The U.S.-China off world faceoff
Don’t think that the Chinese aren’t moving aggressively in the “off world.” That rover they have on the backside of the moon — where we are not and no one else has been — we cannot be sure about what they’re up to. They have successfully created and put into orbit a communication satellite system so that they could communicate from the backside of the moon.
This is a race of scientific and engineering, skills and abilities. But it’s also a race of ideology. Do we want the world to be dominated by an open society and open scientific community? Or do we want the off world dominated by a space program, in essence, run by the People’s Liberation Army, under the direction of the senior leadership of the Chinese Communist Party? That would be a tragedy for generations, if not forever.
Rep. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-Texas), Ranking member House Foreign Affairs Committee
Export controls, Taiwan defense and Hunter Biden’s laptop
We’re going to be focused like a laser on export control issues. There’s an office within the Department of Commerce — the Bureau of Industry and Security. They are charged with approving or not approving export licenses that then could go into China and that in several cases we found go right into their military apparatus. This office has been off the radar of Congress for a long time and is within our jurisdiction, so we want to conduct a 90-day review of this office to find out what they’re doing.
The Hunter Biden laptop issue involves China so you’ll see a joint investigation between the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and HFAC.
Something I’ll be working very closely on with the House Armed Services Committee is our defense industrial base. We have a three-year backlog of foreign military sales that I signed off on in my position that have yet to be delivered into Taiwan. You could see from Ukraine, it’s far better to get the weapons prior to an invasion than after and then not play catch up.
Rep. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R-Wash.), Ranking member House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Supply chains, radical environmentalists and TikTok’s data threat
We’ve seen the Biden administration and the Democratic majority putting hundreds of billions of dollars toward promoting wind and solar and electric vehicles, but those supply chains are largely controlled by China. I’m very concerned about this dangerous dependence upon China as well as the terrible environmental and human rights record in China.
We need to build upon a probe into these radical environmental groups who have asked Biden to be soft on China. We need to look into those groups and better understand why they’re promoting this agenda that makes us dangerously dependent.
Also, we want to further examine the increasing number of clinical trials that are conducted in China to support FDA drug applications and what the health risks are associated with that.
We have been doing some investigations as to how the Chinese Communist Party is stealing our data and collecting a ton of data on Americans. TikTok is going to be at the top of the [investigations] list.
Rep. MIKE TURNER (R-Ohio), Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Eliminating “stovepipes,” weaponizing space, anti-espionage
One of my goals is to ensure that the Armed Services Committee and the intelligence committee work closely together. [Rep.] MIKE ROGERS (R-La.), who is the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, is committed to bringing these two committees together, so we’re going to work in partnership to make certain that we share information that affects policy.
We’re going to have to look at cyber, malign influence, bio weapons, space, nuclear weapons programs and surveillance. We have already begun on the Republican side reorganizing ourselves so that we have members that undertake the lead in each of these categories. Those members are defining a portfolio which includes China and other adversaries.
Space is a clear area where a reluctance to militarize space, or to respond to the militarization of space by Russia and China, has held us back. We need to understand where adversaries are going and that it is absolutely an existential threat. Their goal is to destroy our space-based capabilities, which destroys our ground-base capabilities. We need to respond and we need to invest both defensively and offensively. The only way to deter an adversary is for them to understand that they have a risk too.
There’s a great concern that this administration with its concerted wokeism is failing to be able to rise to [China’s] challenge. If you can’t have a China Initiative when your adversary is China because you’re afraid of offending, then you’re not going to be successful.
—LAWMAKERS SLAM BANKERS’ HONG KONG TRIP: A group of GOP lawmakers are condemning senior executives of America’s largest banks for agreeing to attend a Hong Kong event headlined by the territory’s leader — saying U.S. sanctions against John Lee Ka-Chiu should trump business interests. At issue: the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit in November, where senior executives from financial institutions including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone and Morgan Stanley are scheduled to appear. Read your host’s full story here.
—ANGUS KING TACKLES CHINA WAR RISK: Sen. ANGUS KING (I-Maine) last week launched legislation — backed by Sens. TIM KAINE (D-Va.) and JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas) — aimed to prevent a possible military conflict with China. King’s bill will create a commission — modeled on the Cyberpace Solarium Commission — to draft a ”comprehensive grand strategy” for U.S. policy toward China.
“There’s a need for an overarching look at what our policy and strategy should be vis-à-vis visa China and how we avoid stumbling into a war that nobody wants,” King told China Watcher.
—LAWMAKERS DECRY CHINA QUARANTINE SECURITY RISKS:
Reps. Michael McCaul and JAMES COMER (R-Ky.) want the State Department to “preserve all documentation” related to the Chinese government’s mandatory quarantine of 16 U.S. diplomats and their family members over the course of the pandemic.
“U.S .diplomats could be or have been pressured to surrender intelligence while detained in PRC quarantine camps,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN last week. The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations bars “any form of arrest or detention” of foreign diplomats.
“This is a tempest in a teapot,” said HOWARD STOFFER, associate professor of national security at the University of New Haven. “Most of the information that [U.S. diplomats] deal with on a day-to-day basis is either confidential or secret at best. And most of the time it’s unclassified. To think that anything sensitive or top secret or higher would be with most of the working-level diplomats that might have been forced to stay in confinement is absurd.”
—BIDEN’S $810 MILLION PACIFIC ISLAND OUTREACH: The Biden administration last week launched an $810 million diplomatic initiative — the Pacific Partnership Strategy — to reinforce its intent to counter China’s growing influence in the region. The initiative was the centerpiece of the Sept. 28-29 U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit that included an eleventh hour refusal by Solomon Islands to sign the event’s partnership declaration unless organizers deleted references to China. The Biden administration complied.
“Pressure and economic coercion by the People’s Republic of China … risks undermining the peace, prosperity and security of the region,” the strategy’s introduction said. “We firmly reject the U.S.’s vilification and denigration,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson MAO NING shot back on Friday.
“My ongoing concern is that the $810m …will be spread over so many nations and programs that when compared to the sums China is investing and/or loaning the region, this will not meet the challenge and aims of the huge upscaling of U.S. attention to the region,” said PATRICIA O’BRIEN, professor of history in the Asian Studies Program at Georgetown University.
—THE POLITICO SNAPCHAT SHOW GOES TAIWAN: Need a quick soup-to-nuts on the intricacies of the U.S.-Taiwan-China relationship? The POLITICO Snapchat Show team has you covered with this short, sharp Snapchat video (starring your host!) that goes wide and deep in just 2:17 minutes. Don’t miss it!
—GERMAN LAWMAKER’S TAIWAN DEFENSE PLEDGE: A visiting German lawmaker told Taiwan President TSAI ING-WEN that Germany would intervene against a Chinese attack on the self-governing island. “We will bravely stand up to assist and support Taiwan if it faces such military threats,” KLAUS-PETER WILLSCH, chairman of the German-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group, said Monday.
—CHINESE EMBASSY SLAMS POMPEO’S CHINA VIDEOS: The Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C. wants the Hudson Institute to stop distributing a series of short YouTube videos critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party featuring former Secretary of State MIKE POMPEO.
The videos “made groundless accusations against the Communist Party of China,” the embassy said in letter that Pompeo shared on Twitter on Tuesday.
“We have written to the Hudson Institute to express our concern and clarify the facts,” Chinese embassy spokesperson LIU PENGYU told China Watcher. Pompeo clearly enjoys the attention. “The CCP wants me to stop speaking the truth. Ain’t gonna happen,” Pompeo tweeted.
—CHINA’S LINGUISTIC ERASURE OF TIBET: The Chinese government wants us to forget about Tibet by rebranding it “Xizang.” That’s the pinyin, or transliteration of the Chinese term for the restive western region seared by decades of severe human rights abuses. The Chinese state media tabloid Global Times has spearheaded government moves to replace “Tibet” with “Xizang” and China’s Foreign Ministry is now doing likewise, DAVID BANDURSKI, director of the nonprofit China Media Project, said in an analysis last week.
“The retirement of ‘Tibet’ in favor of ‘Xizang’ … is likely an attempt to shift the discussion of issues relating to the region away from a place name that has come in Western languages to symbolize China’s human rights abuses, and to have toxic associations with wrangling over sovereignty,” Bandurski said.
“This is another attempt doomed to fail because PRC lacks any form of legitimacy of its rule and presence in Tibet, be it historical, legal [or] popular,” NAMGYAL CHOEDUP, the D.C.-based North America representative for Tibet’s government in exile, told China Watcher
—CHINA’S UKRAINE INVASION TAIWAN PROBLEM: China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry is struggling to avoid addressing Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN’S declared annexation of the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk after sham referenda last week. China has responded with bland assertions that “all countries deserve respect for their sovereignty and territorial integrity” without explicitly referencing Ukraine or criticizing Putin.
That’s because the Chinese government doesn’t want those referenda and annexations to suggest a potential path for Taiwan independence.
“CCP officials, steeped in Maoist ideology, are quite comfortable with the idea of contradictions…and in the case of Ukraine comparisons to Taiwan, they have taken the opportunity to remind everyone of the distinctions between the two cases and further hammer on the narrative that Taiwan is an ‘inalienable part of Chinese territory,” said ALISON SZALWINSKI, the vice president for research at the National Bureau of Asian Research.
“What they don’t want us looking at is the fact that Russia has violated China’s absolute core principle of national sovereignty, national integrity and nonintervention with a country which China has afforded full diplomatic and legal recognition, and the Chinese government is unable to fulsomely condemn it,” said SHELLEY RIGGER, professor of political science at Davidson College.
The Economist: “An investigation into what has shaped Xi Jinping’s thinking”
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “How We Would Know When China Is Preparing to Invade Taiwan”
—NEXT STOP: TAIPEI: Taiwan will lift all quarantine restrictions for incoming visitors starting Oct. 13. Taiwan is peddling a smart narrative— led on social media by a smiling President TSAI ING-WEN — that connects border reopening to opportunity, convenience and an explicit welcome to international visitors. The contrast with China’s tenacious zero-Covid regime — think dread and grim resignation — couldn’t be starker.
The Book: The U.S. vs China: The Quest for Global Economic Leadership
The Author: C. FRED BERGSTEN is nonresident senior fellow and director emeritus at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former assistant secretary for international affairs of the U.S. Treasury.
What is the most important takeaway from your book?
The US and China must find ways to work together to preserve and strengthen a stable and prosperous global economy. Few if any major global problems can be resolved satisfactorily without their cooperation: climate change, pandemic prevention, financial crises, restoring an open trading system. The U.S. can no longer provide the necessary leadership alone, even with its traditional allies.
What was the most surprising thing you learned while researching and writing this book?
Many powerful and influential people in both the U.S. and China want to decouple overall relations between the two countries and even foster a new Cold War. Huge economic benefits for both countries would be foregone. The risk of conflict would be greatly exacerbated. The global economy (and indeed world peace) would be threatened. For what purpose? Some abstract notion of global supremacy?
President Trump’s containment policy was an abject failure: China was the only major country to keep growing throughout the pandemic; its share of world trade and investment increased sharply despite the trade war with the U.S.; and even America’s strongest allies were unwilling to join the effort. President Biden has largely continued the policy so this potentially disastrous trend continues.
What does your book tell us about the trajectory and future of U.S.-China relations?
The future of China-U.S. relations is fraught with danger. A new Cold War or worse could easily evolve. This is partly due to the inherent clash between rising and incumbent superpowers. It is partly because a vacuum of global economic leadership, with incalculable consequences, will ensue if the two superpowers permit it.
Containment and national decoupling must be rejected in favor of “conditional competitive cooperation” to sustain a healthy world economy.
Got a book to recommend? Tell me about it at [email protected]
Thanks to: Heidi Vogt, Matt Kaminski and digital producer Andrew Howard.Do you have tips? Chinese-language stories we might have missed? Would you like to contribute to China Watcher or comment on this week’s items? Email us at [email protected]