The China committee chair wants Congress to run war games
The Republican leader of the new select committee convened to study the U.S.-China competition talks to Semafor about his plans for the bipartisan panel.
The Republican leader of the House select committee on China thinks that Congress should start doing its own war games to evaluate a would-be invasion of Taiwan by China.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., a Marine Corps veteran who chairs the new panel, said part of the committee’s work will be demonstrating to the American public what the consequences of an invasion would be — not only the military fallout, but economic ramifications as well.
“We’re exploring options where we could do creative wargaming that integrates financial and economic warfare into purely kinetic warfare to tease out the importance of Taiwan,” he told Semafor in an interview.
Gallagher, who believes that preventing an invasion depends on deterring China with robust U.S. military assistance to Taiwan, sees convincing the public of the importance of that aid as one element of the panel’s work.
“We can learn the lessons of Ukraine and surge hard power west of the international dateline and turn all this happy talk about arming Taiwan to the teeth to reality,” he said. “Then I think we can prevent war.”
The committee is starting up at a critical moment for U.S.-China relations. Tensions are running high after the U.S. downed a Chinese surveillance balloon earlier this month and cancelled a meeting between top diplomats in Beijing.
The war games idea is one of several that Gallagher has for the committee as it gets ready to begin work. The panel will hold events later this month to spotlight the Chinese government’s human rights record, Gallagher said, and has started to lay plans for its first hearing.
Gallagher, like the committee’s ranking member Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., has emphasized that he’s determined to keep the committee’s work as bipartisan as possible. He told Semafor that the Chinese government’s human rights record is a “natural entry point into this discussion for Democrats and Republicans.”
The Wisconsin Republican also said he wants to break out of the mold of the typical congressional hearing by getting members off of Capitol Hill and holding field hearings.
“Let’s be honest: Most congressional hearings are boring…most members don’t show up for them, most members just read from a script, so we don’t want to fall into that trap,” Gallagher said. “Even when we’re doing formal hearings we’re going to try and make them more interesting.”
As for the spy balloon, Gallagher signaled it won’t be a primary area of focus, but that the panel would look to tie it into a broader case that China was growing bolder.
“Putting this in the context of a pattern of aggression we’re seeing from the CCP, connecting it to their spying on university campuses, connecting it to their purchase of land near military bases, connecting it to their illicit police stations that they have on American soil, I think, is the area where we can play a unique role,” he said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
It’s early, but the bipartisan hopes for the new China panel are strong despite high polarization in Washington.
“This is a serious committee, and I believe it,” one member of the panel, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., told NBC News.
While some Democrats expressed initial concerns the committee could become a venue for anti-Asian sentiment, Gallagher told me he emphasized to its members the need to “constantly make a distinction between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people.”
“The select committee will not be a platform for anti-Asian rhetoric,” he said.
There is support across the aisle for backing Taiwan, with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. making a high-profile trip to the island last year and speculation that new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. will soon do the same. Lawmakers from both parties have also condemned China for its repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and for the recent spat over the surveillance balloon.
There may be less agreement on other issues, including the broader question of how much the U.S. should try to engage economically and diplomatically with China. Republicans, including Gallagher, have suggested the U.S. needs to prepare for a new Cold War, where the U.S. spends less time trying to work with China on areas of common interest and more time seeking to confront and isolate Beijing. Democrats like Krishnamoorthi disagree.
The committee’s ranking member recently told me that the U.S. and China should “partner on those other common challenges where we have to work together, whether it’s climate change or bringing an end to the war in Ukraine,” echoing the Biden administration’s approach to Beijing.
The one thing we all can probably agree on is that congressional hearings can be a slog, as a reporter, I’m curious to witness what unconventional approach the committee takes.
Room for Disagreement
Some are eyeing the committee warily. Max Baucus, a former U.S. ambassador to China and Democratic senator, recently told Politico Playbook that he has concerns about the panel, partly because it wasn't convened to craft a bill. “When you have legislative jurisdiction, it helps you be responsible because you’ve got to work on passing legislation,” he said. He also argued that Republicans on the committee would try to “look for ways to try to embarrass Joe Biden on China” if the president moves forward with plans to seek reelection in 2024.