Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard from four witnesses on Tuesday that all agreed that the best way to work with allies on China was to focus on southeast Asia, namely the Indo-Pacific region where China has become a soft power leader, and a recognizable brand name.
The way forward was to give the region alternatives to China. House members and witnesses from Washington, D.C. think tanks said the U.S. also had to keep the smaller nations of Europe in mind, as they are more susceptible to China influence. And that while the old ‘Asia pivot’ of the Obama years was still a good idea, America’s Congress must never forget what our dependence on Asian supply chains has done to our economy – from medical mask shortages at the height of the pandemic to microchips for automobiles all sourced from Asia, now in short supply and causing used cars to price like new ones still stuck on factory floors.
Committee Chairman Ami Bera (D-CA-7) said working with allies on China was the way forward. He said it was “incumbent upon us as friends and long-time partners to continue to work together.”
Trans-Atlantic ties were supposedly greatly tattered in the Trump years, primarily with Germany. But since Biden has taken over, he has put on a charm offensive for the Europeans and has gotten them to act almost in synch on China matters. This includes sanctions action and fines for companies doing business in Xinjiang, home to the Uyghur Muslim population that’s essentially living in open-air prisons, and recent strongly-worded statements against China for hacking a Microsoft server.
The entire gist of Tuesday’s hearing, however, was about the need for the U.S. to engage more in the Indo-Pacific region to be an alternative to China investment. Everyone agreed this had to be more than a military exercise, and required government backing of investment projects designed to entice the private sector here to follow along and join in.
Any talk of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a counterforce to China was quickly shot down, even by those who brought it up. This is a good sign. TPP is still not seen as a solution.
“If we are not going to get back to TPP, then we need an array of U.S. offerings that resonate in the region,” said Matthew Goodman, Senior Vice President for Economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “The U.S. needs a credible and affirmative economic strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. That’s where the money is. The industries are too big and the competition too great to go it alone, that’s why working with Europeans on this is a great place to start,” he said.
Other witnesses providing testimony to the House said the U.S. should invest in Europe, and not just view the region through the eyes of Brussels. Poland and other Eastern European nations need investment, or they will come to rely more on China if their neighbors in Western Europe are not doing so. And if the U.S. is too focused on Asia, warned Hudson Institute Senior Fellow, Peter Rough.
Heather Conley, a former State Department official in the George W. Bush presidency and now at CSIS said “a weak Europe will not stand up to China, and will not be able to work with us.”
Congressmen were clear that the China fight was the fight of the 21st Century.
“The story of the 20th Century was Trans-Atlantic solidarity to fight world wars,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH-1). “We rebuilt together after the ravages of socialist tyrannies to create a world in which a collection of sovereign states would not be trodden upon by would-be hegemons. The 21st Century is presenting us with something similar. Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party is not making it a secret. They want to impose their authoritarian government model for industrial nations,” Chabot said. “Xi calls it ‘new options for industrial nations who want to speed up their development.’ The U.S. and Europe have to band together. But much work needs to be done.”
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA 1) brought up supply chain vulnerabilities due to Asian – and China – dependence.
“We must secure sectors like medical personal protection equipment, pharmaceuticals, and semiconductors,” he said. “The U.S. and Europe and the rest of the free world share the responsibility to eradicate forced labor around the globe, and now allow for the CCP to continue to create genocide among the Uyghurs. We must not be afraid to sanction any entity that engages in a supply chain backed by genocide. I hope the EU parliament realizes that thinking economically on China will change China. It won’t. If we don’t address this, we are just sitting here talking. Time is now to build a unified front against China,” Fitzpatrick said.