Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

In Washington, China is a four-letter word and the excuse for everything

Posted by M. C. on May 3, 2023

Lawmakers have introduced nearly 275 measures this session, while bureaucrats are busy using the CCP to justify ballooning budgets.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C. ): They are centralized; we are decentralized. They are closed; we are open. They suppress free speech and human dignity; we embrace it.”  

Say What?

Written by
Blaise Malley

The 118th Congress has been underway for about three months, and at least one thing is already clear — across both parties, many committees, and a whole host of issues touching virtually all aspects of American life — China is the hottest issue on the Hill right now.

The first hearings of the session are often indicative of overarching priorities for the upcoming term. In 2023, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Financial Services Committee, and the House subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, part of the Judiciary committee, all held their initial hearings on some aspect of strategic competition with China. Within a week of their swearing-in, a large majority of members voted to establish the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, to much media fanfare.

Since then, subcommittees in HFAC, as well as Homeland Security, Coronavirus, Ways and Means, and Oversight committees have followed suit, in one way or another, in raising the China specter. 

Not surprisingly, many of these hearings have been full of fear-mongering, depicting the Chinese Communist Party as an existential threat rather than actually grappling with the genuine challenges and legitimate concerns now facing the U.S.-China relationship.

“China is not an ally or a strategic partner. They are our competitor and pose the single greatest threat to America’s global standing,” charged Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C. ) during the Financial Services committee’s first hearing. “The juxtaposition between the United States and China could not be more clear. They are centralized; we are decentralized. They are closed; we are open. They suppress free speech and human dignity; we embrace it.”  

The chairman of the subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), declared during his hearing that  “America’s national security is at risk because of China’s government’s quest to achieve superiority using both internal and externally gotten technology. They will use both legal and illegal means in order to gain technology.” 

Other hearings have veered off course from their official agendas into unrelated attacks on Beijing, as when Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) — during a hearing on PRC influence in the Indian Ocean — wondered, in a reference to China’s treatment of Uyghurs and ambivalence towards the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, “how effective have we been in letting the Muslim populations from Indonesia to Egypt know what China is doing and making them pay a price?” None of the witnesses felt they had sufficient expertise to answer this question. 

A search of the congressional record shows that in the first three months of the 118th Congress, lawmakers have introduced 273 bills or amendments that contain some variation of the word “China.” The terms  “CCP,” “PRC,” “Beijing,” or “Taiwan” add a handful more. This marks a significant uptick in China-related legislation in recent Congresses. This session’s total is already more than any congressional session before the 114th (2015-16). Since then, the number has increased from 288 in the 115th (2017-2018) to 627 in the 116th (2019-2020) to 1,323 in the 117th Congress (2021-2022). 

Like the recent congressional hearings, these bills touch on almost every aspect of American life. 

At a time of intense partisan polarization, bashing China is one issue on which both parties can’t get enough. Republicans sense that China’s rise — and the supposed American decline that accompanies it — serves as a useful political weapon against President Joe Biden. 

“The second thing that’s happening, and that’s more concerning for me,” Michael Brenes, Non-Resident Fellow at the Quincy Institute, told Responsible Statecraft, “is that the Biden administration is pursuing a policy where it believes the China threat can be served to revive or renew American democracy and American foreign policy, in a post war on terror era.” Meaning, he added, that everything from domestic renewal to industrial policy to foreign policymaking is being justified on that basis. 

As a result, heads of various government agencies have made cases for increasing their budgets based on the need to combat the China threat. Testifying in front of the House Appropriations Committee in late April, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that bureau agents were outnumbered “at least 50 to 1” by Chinese hackers looking to attack critical U.S. infrastructure. 

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