Republican members of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party used much of their time during a hearing Thursday to accuse Biden officials of “weakness” for their willingness to engage with China, both diplomatically and economically.
The charges focused in part on the recent visits to China by prominent senior officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and climate envoy John Kerry. The members of the select committee grilled three officials from three key agencies on the administration’s policy toward Beijing — the Pentagon’s Ely Ratner, the State Department’s Daniel Kritenbrink, and Thea Rozman Kendler from the Commerce Department. The primary lines of attack, according to Jake Werner, a research fellow focusing on U.S-China relations at the Quincy Institute were an “intense anxiety about the health of US society blamed on China” and “posing all issues in the relationship as zero-sum and therefore demanding confrontation.”
Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) was concerned with the fact that leadership in Washington, and not their Chinese counterparts, were the ones pushing for these meetings.
“When was the last time the PRC requested a meeting with a senior U.S. official?” Gimenez asked. “The point I’m trying to make is that we continue to be asking for all these high-level meetings with high-level officials in China. We continue to do that…. Doesn’t it seem to you like that might be looked at around the world as a sign of weakness?”
Some Democratic members pushed back at this characterization, with Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) saying that he was “pretty alarmed” by the current discourse on the Hill surrounding speaking with China and Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) lamenting the “concerning false equivalency between diplomacy and weakness” during the hearing.
Republican members argued that not only was diplomacy a sign of weakness, but so too is trade, with two calling for the end of all trade with China moving forward. While questioning Rozman Kendler on why the U.S. continues to trade with Beijing, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) said “we’ve got to stop everything going to China,” because a “willingness to be a partner with them endangers us down the road.”
In terms of Taiwan, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) argued in favor of the One China policy, saying that the United States can “assist Taiwan, as many [in Congress] want to, (...) but still affirm the One China policy architected by Dr. [Henry] Kissinger,” and that Blinken had been “appropriate” in saying that during his recent visit.
In response, Kritenbrink affirmed that there had been “absolutely no change to the One China policy.”
“The dispute over Taiwan is only the most dangerous in a long list of zero-sum economic and military tensions between the US and China that are pushing the two toward conflict. For the Biden administration’s belated turn to diplomacy with China to succeed, it will need to move beyond communication for its own sake,” Werner said in comments before the hearing.
“The two powers must focus on addressing urgent common interests like climate, global development, and global governance reform—redirecting their efforts from exacerbating zero-sum economic and military dynamics to working jointly on overcoming them.”