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12 Jan, 2023 13:59

What US Republicans could do with their new anti-China committee

Washington’s Beijing policy is bound to become even more aggressive and unpredictable
What US Republicans could do with their new anti-China committee

At the beginning of the year, the Republican Party took control of the US House of Representatives, after their victory in the November midterm elections. Following internal party struggles and gridlock over the election of the new speaker, the House voted to create a new Congressional Select Committee on China, aiming to intensify US competition against Beijing. The Republican Party’s pick to lead the new committee, Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, has vowed to “win the new Cold War” against China.

The GOP’s narrow majority in the House of the Representatives, its laser focus on China, contempt for the US presidency and Speaker Kevin McCarthy's dependency on the party’s right wing, spells further trouble for the US-China relationship. While the Biden administration has never been ‘friendly’ with Beijing, and this is probably one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement left in Washington, things are likely to become even more unpredictable as Republican hawks seek to advance their agenda.

There is no doubt that the Republican-held House will seek to deliver a hammer blow to President Joe Biden. In an era of growing political polarization in the US, it has become the norm that when the House of Representatives is controlled by the party that does not control the presidency, they seek to disrupt, undermine, stall, and humiliate the White House. When Trump was president and Nancy Pelosi’s democrats controlled the House, she decided to force a government shutdown by blocking Trump’s funding for his border wall, creating one of the biggest standoffs of its kind in US history.

This means that for Biden, there’s plenty of that kind of stuff ahead. The Republican House will be seeking to block his budget agenda, especially when it comes to healthcare, education, social costs, and of course immigration matters. But in addition to that, they will seek to force new things on the president too, and one area they have in mind is China. Now in practice, Joe Biden’s China policy is actually more aggressive and hawkish than Donald Trump’s was, even if it is more strategically rational. But hawks always want more. They don’t want a stable relationship with Beijing that is predictable, they want a full-on cold war, they want to push the lines on everything.

This means, and especially with the new select committee, the Republican-led House of Representatives will be producing more anti-China bills – and owing to the influence the political right has now gained over the speaker, some may also get traction. These bills will likely consist of new efforts at sanctioning Chinese individuals or entities, declaring more support for Taiwan, both politically and militarily, and similar things. As has always been the case with anti-China bills, they are likely to get comprehensive support from all of Congress, forcing the president to accept them, and therefore having an impact on the relationship with China whether he wills it or not.

But this also means that anti-China bills will become part of the ‘Congressional game’, especially in the inter-partisan struggle between the House and the Senate. For example, the Republicans may seek to block the passage of a bill in line with Biden’s agenda, forcing the Democrats to concede to supporting anti-China bills in exchange. The US Congress after all is a game, one which involves lots of wheeling, dealing, and haggling. One very strong example of this was in 2020 when Republicans negotiated the addition of a Tibet sanctions-related bill to the Covid-19 stimulus act, showing the logic of ‘We will not give you X, unless you also agree to Y’.

Therefore, from Beijing’s point of view, this is bad news. While China is likely to point to the inevitable divisions and political conflict in Washington, DC as an example as to why American democracy is broken and dysfunctional, the problem is that this arrangement creates unpredictability and instability, which subsequently leads to more anti-China politics coming to the forefront. The US president is already super-hawkish, but he is not unpredictable. Thus, the shift in the congressional balance of power means he will lose control over certain aspects of US foreign policymaking, in particular of those who endeavour to make the situation worse. So when it comes to thorny issues such as Taiwan, we can fully expect 2023 to be a bumpy year as Republicans will seek to inflame tensions.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.