© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI) walks to a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
By Patricia Zengerle and Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A new U.S. congressional select committee on competition with China will hold a first hearing focused largely on human rights on Tuesday night, as bilateral ties remained tense weeks after a suspected spy balloon flying over North America was shot down.
“We want to lead with a human rights focused, values-focused agenda,” Representative Mike Gallagher, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, told reporters on a call previewing the hearing.
He said he sees the hearing, the first of many over the next two years when the Republicans hold power in the House, as part of an effort to convince Americans about why they should care about competing with China, and to “selectively decouple” the U.S. and Chinese economies.
Leading up to the hearing, Gallagher held three events to draw attention to rights concerns, including a rally on Saturday outside what U.S. officials call an illegal Chinese Communist Party “police station” in New York.
Gallagher sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week seeking information about such alleged police outposts. He said Monday he had not received a response, but expected FBI director Christopher Wray would brief the panel.
China denies operating “police stations” on U.S. soil.
Additional events with rights activists were set for Monday night and Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday’s hearing, set for 7 p.m. EST (0100 GMT), will have four witnesses, including H.R. McMaster, a retired Army lieutenant general who was former Republican President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, and Matt Pottinger, a long-time China hawk who was deputy national security adviser to Trump.
Also testifying will be Tong Yi, secretary to a prominent Chinese dissident who was jailed in China for more than two years, and Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.
A desire for a hard line in dealings with Beijing is one of the few truly bipartisan sentiments in the deeply divided U.S. Congress, with both Republicans and President Joe Biden’s Democrats calling for increased efforts to counteract China’s global influence.
“Even in a very divisive and polarized time, over the last six years we have been able to work together when it comes to military competition with China,” said Gallagher, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and former Marine counterintelligence officer.
Tensions have been especially high of late, over China’s increasingly aggressive military posture toward Taiwan, talk that China may be supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine, and the U.S. shooting down on Feb. 4 of a Chinese balloon suspected of spying over U.S. territory.
Beijing has denied that the balloon was a government spy vessel.
House Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy had promised he would create a select committee focused on China after Republicans took control of the chamber in January.
The select committee has 13 Republican and 11 Democratic members. It will not write legislation, but will draw attention to competition between the United States and China on a range of fronts and make recommendations for legislation.
(This story has been refiled to add the dropped word ‘hearing’ in the headline)