A panel of US lawmakers tasked with scrutinizing Beijing held a debut hearing Tuesday overshadowed by protests from the public gallery as it focused on the “threat” of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Republicans and Democrats hope the “House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party” will be a bulwark against what they see as the malign influence of the Asian giant.
But an activist with a sign reading “China is not our enemy” began decrying the work of the panel as the witnesses gave opening statements.
As she was removed, a second protester stood up and yelled, “This committee is about saber-rattling — it’s not about peace,” and continued to rant as he too was escorted out amid a chorus of boos from the gallery.
H.R. McMaster, one of Republican former president Donald Trump’s national security advisors, appeared to blame the outburst on a department of the CCP’s Central Committee that carries out influence operations abroad.
“I think these interruptions are indicative of the effect that the United Front Work Department has had… They reinforced, I think, the idea that America is the problem in the world, and only if America disengages or in this case becomes more passive, that things will get better,” he said.
He described the outbursts as an extreme example of American “complacency” faced with growing competition from China and urged the lawmakers to uncover the “true nature of CCP aggression.”
The hearing came amid tensions between the world’s top two economies heightened by the downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon by the US military and recent speculation that Beijing might be arming Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.
The relationship has been further strained this week by reports that the US Department of Energy had determined “with low confidence” that a leak from a Chinese lab was the most likely cause of the Covid-19 outbreak that swept the globe in 2020.
American intelligence remains divided on the issue, however, and Chinese officials have angrily denied the claim, although the government has been criticized for its lack of transparency.
The House China committee has been put in charge of investigating a range of economic, technological and military threats posed by China.
Committee chairman Mike Gallagher gave a sweeping introduction outlining “The Chinese Communist Party’s Threat to America” — the title of the hearing — aided by a multimedia presentation.
Lawmakers also heard from Matthew Pottinger, a China expert in the Trump White House, who said President Xi Jinping refers to Beijing’s propaganda activities as a “magic weapon.”
“You could say that the Chinese Communist Party is the Harry Houdini of Marxist Leninist regimes, the David Copperfield of communism, the Criss Angel of autocracy,” he mused.
“But the magic is fading.”
On a consequential day in the House of Representatives for trans-Pacific ties, there were multiple hearings on China, underscoring the urgent priority it has become in Washington’s foreign policy.
The Foreign Affairs Committee earlier heard from administration officials on the “generational challenge” of the CCP as it debated legislation holding China responsible for the recent balloon incursion and giving President Joe Biden legal authority to ban influential Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing on how competition with China shaped US research and development.