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House GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19

Greg Nash

Members of a new House GOP task force on China are vowing their investigation will go beyond COVID-19 and include probes into a host of issues creating tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The fledgling task force — led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee — will look into topics ranging from supply chain and national security concerns to human rights violations and China’s growing influence on the world stage, in addition to early missteps with the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

Task force leaders have already discussed with a senior Trump administration official “how best to work together on this,” according to a senior staffer with knowledge of the talks. Panel members said they expect to receive classified briefings before publishing their findings in October, just before Election Day.

President Trump and his administration have made China a political punching bag in the 2020 campaign, particularly as the pandemic ravages the U.S. economy.

McCaul said the need for a broad congressional inquiry into China’s behavior is long overdue, and the country’s response to the deadly virus should serve as a wake-up call.

“I think most people woke up after COVID-19 hit with a realization they had no idea that we’re so dependent on China for medical supplies and of course the technology coming out of there,” he told The Hill in an interview. “We’re also really looking into the military posturing of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to ideology and how can we compete better with China.”

House leaders initially planned to launch a bipartisan China task force this year, but Democrats later opted out, positioning the committee to proceed solely with a GOP focus.

That could prove beneficial for the party as congressional races and the presidential campaign kick into high gear, when candidates from both parties tend to talk tough on China.

Polls consistently show Americans are wary of China. A Pew Research Center survey published last month found that 66 percent of Americans have a negative view of China.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), a member of the task force and one of the most vocal China hawks in Congress, argued Democrats’ decision to back out of the committee was more politically motivated than Republicans’ decision to move forward without them.

“The fact that they’re turning a blind eye to the China threat can only be chalked up to politics with the election in six months, and frankly, I think it’s a foolish political move on their part,” Banks said.

Democrats say that even though they aren’t participating in the task force, they’re still focused on working across the aisle on China policy.

“China continues to be a focus for our caucus and our committees of jurisdiction are working on policies related to China, including combating Chinese disinformation, U.S. competitiveness in light of increasing competition from China and U.S. defense and national security challenges in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations,” a senior Democratic aide said.

In addition to McCaul and Banks, the task force consists of House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Reps. Andy Barr (Ky.), John Curtis (Utah), Mike Gallagher (Wis.), Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), John Joyce (Pa.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Darin LaHood (Ill.), Guy Reschenthaler (Pa.), Denver Riggleman (Va.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Chris Stewart (Utah) and Mike Waltz (Fla.). The lawmakers sit on 11 different committees with jurisdiction over China policy.

Gonzalez, a freshman lawmaker who’s a member of the Financial Services Committee, said the task force plans to take a hard look at “how they’ve operated on the international stage.”

Part of that focus, he said, will be on China’s global influence, and how the world’s second largest economy is looking to rival the U.S.

China’s leadership over the past two decades “has been characterized primarily by a refusal to abide by any of the agreements that they sign up for” and “a commitment to undermine the international institutions in the international world order, and to displace the United States, and insert them as the leader of the world,” said Gonzalez.

But the two countries have been working together recently, namely on a trade deal that has seen China buying more U.S. agricultural products. Trump signed the first phase of a massive trade agreement with China in mid-January, though the timeline for phase two is unclear as tensions have escalated between Washington and Beijing over the pandemic.

While the early days of the coronavirus outbreak will certainly be a significant component of the task force’s work, members are aiming to highlight other areas of concern, and how they think those issues should be tackled.

The panel plans to craft an extensive report on policy recommendations and publish its findings by October, giving Republicans a potential campaign talking point.

“I think there are three categories we’re looking at: geopolitical, military and economic,” said Riggleman, a Russia and China threat expert from his time as an Air Force intelligence officer. “And then within those categories, you know, we look at what the most important things are — where has China been less than transparent as far as United States interests are concerned?”

Tags Adam Kinzinger Andy Barr Anthony Gonzalez Chris Stewart coronavirus china pandemic mccaul republicans Darin LaHood Denver Riggleman Donald Trump Elise Stefanik Guy Reschenthaler John Joyce Liz Cheney Michael McCaul Mike Gallagher Pew
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