A special House committee dedicated to combating China began its work Tuesday with a prime-time hearing in which the panel’s chairman urged lawmakers to act quickly and framed the competition between USA and China as “an existential struggle about what life will look like in the 21st century.”

While some critics have expressed concern that the hearings could escalate tensions between the US and China, lawmakers sought to show unity and the panel’s top Democrat made clear he does not want a “clash of civilizations” but a lasting peace.

Tensions between the US and China have been rising for years, with both countries imposing retaliatory tariffs on a range of imports during President Donald Trump’s time in office. China’s opaque response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its aggression against Taiwan and the recent flight of a possible spy balloon over the United States have fueled lawmakers’ desire to do more to counter the Chinese government. The new committee of the Chinese Communist Party is expected to be at the center of many of their efforts over the next two years.

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The chairman of the committee, rep. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., opened the hearing with a call for action. He addressed the difficulty of finding common ground on China-focused legislation, saying the Chinese government has found friends on Wall Street and in lobbyists on Washington’s K Street who are ready to oppose the committee’s efforts.

“Time is not on our side. Just because this Congress is divided, we cannot afford to waste the next two years lingering in legislative limbo or sneering at the press,” Gallagher said. “We must act with a sense of urgency .”

Gallagher is looking for the committee to lead several bills across the finish line over the next two years and issue a set of long-term policy recommendations. So far, Gallagher appears to have Democratic buy-in and support. The vote to create the committee was split, 365-65.

Opponents on the Democratic side largely expressed concern that the committee could create an even greater increase in anti-Asian hate crimes. Gallagher said he is determined to ensure the focus is on the Chinese Communist Party, not the people of China.

Rope. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., the ranking Democrat on the committee, said both Republicans and Democrats have underestimated the Chinese Communist Party. He said its goal is to pursue economic and trade policies that undermine the American economy.

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“We don’t want a war with (the People’s Republic of China), not a cold war, not a hot war,” Krishnamoorthi said. “We do not want a conflict between civilizations. But we seek a lasting peace and that is why we must deter aggression.”

The hearing was interrupted by two protesters, one of whom said: “this committee is about saber-rattling, it’s not about peace.” Both were sent out by police.

Witnesses for Tuesday’s hearing included two former advisers to Trump: Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser who resigned immediately after the January 6, 2021 uprising at the US Capitol; and HR McMaster, who was National Security Advisor from February 2017 to April 2018.

McMaster and Pottinger delivered sweeping assessments of what they said was the challenge the United States faced from China. It ranged from combating TikTok’s influence on Americans’ online discourse and reducing China’s dominance over supply chains to hardening Taiwan to make it impossible for China’s military to take.

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Pottinger said the main thrust of his testimony was to open people’s eyes to how the United States has become too complacent. “Before we can take the initiative, we must respond to the fact that our national interest has been deeply undermined over the past quarter century,” he said.

Tong Yi, a Chinese human rights advocate, reinforced human rights concerns at the hearing. She was arrested in the 1990s after serving as an interpreter for a leading dissident who had called on the US to condition trade on China’s human rights record. She spent nine months in prison before being sentenced to two and a half years in prison for “disturbing the social order” and sent to a labor camp, where she said authorities organized other prisoners to abuse her.

“In the United States, we must face the fact that we have helped feed the CCP’s baby dragon until it has grown into what it is now,” she said.

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Scott Paul, president of an alliance formed by some manufacturing companies and the United Steelworkers union, testified that “51 years of wishful thinking by American leaders” has failed to change the dynamic that the CCP represents a “clear and present danger to the American worker, our base of innovation and our national security.”

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The hearings come at a time of heightened rivalry and tensions between China and the United States. Both sides _ the United States and its allies, and China _ are consolidating military positions in the Indo-Pacific region in the event of any confrontation over self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.

Last summer, Chinese warships and fighter jets fired missiles over Taiwan during what were days of intense Chinese military exercises following then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the US ally. President Xi Jinping’s government then rejected President Joe Biden’s statements that his administration had no control over the actions of US lawmakers.

And three weeks ago, the Biden administration used a Sidewinder missile fired by an F-22 to end the journey of what the US says was a giant Chinese surveillance balloon traveling over US territory.

Both incidents, especially the balloon, captured American public and political attention and put debate over how to deal with China at the center of US political debate.

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“It’s another indication of the negative decline, the downward spiral, in the US-China relationship,” Michael Swaine, a Washington analyst for China Security Studies, said of Gallagher’s committee. The hearings will increase political pressure on Biden, who has continued to emphasize a desire for limited dialogue with China, to take a harder line, Swaine said.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he was working with Democratic leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY., to form the committee and that America’s failures with China are the result of not speaking with “one voice.” “

“We need to speak with one voice, Republicans and Democrats alike,” McCarthy said. “I think when you look at Gallagher and the work he’s doing with the ranking member, we’re trying to lock in, and I think pretty much all of America wants this.”

Gallagher said he suspects there are at least 10 bills the committee could support in a bipartisan fashion. Still, he said members will seek McCarthy’s support before supporting any legislation. One of the biggest challenges is that jurisdiction over China-related issues is spread across many committees and the members of those committees will want to have a say.

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“I think we can play a constructive coordination function between the committees to make sure that good ideas don’t die just because of the cracks of some committees or being referred to multiple committees,” Gallagher said.

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