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Rep. Mike Gallagher's committee will push back against China

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The new Republican leaders of the House plan to challenge President Biden on many issues. But on one, they may agree - competition with China. President Biden has kept President Trump's tariffs against China in place. Biden blocked China from receiving computer chip technology and strengthened U.S. alliances. Both parties supported a law against using products made by forced labor. Now Republican Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin is set to lead a new House select committee on China.

If you had to put a number on it, what percentage of opinion about China and the threat to China is bipartisan right now?

MIKE GALLAGHER: Well, maybe, if I had to guess, it'd be 75%.

INSKEEP: Gallagher is a former U.S. Marine. He's in his 30s. The presumptive House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, elevated him to a chairmanship, which is a little tenuous now since McCarthy himself has yet to clinch his speakership. But if it works out, Congressman Gallagher becomes Chairman Gallagher and will focus on what is called decoupling. That's the term people used for separating the world's two biggest economies. Gallagher talks of partial or selective decoupling.

GALLAGHER: So when I talk about selective decoupling, I'm really talking about three things. One is technology - ensuring that we aren't subsidizing technology in China that could be used to commit genocide or enhance China's military modernization that would speed up their timeline for taking Taiwan, for example. We don't want American dollars flowing into key technology industries in China that can build tools for techno-totalitarian oppression as well as subsidizing China's military modernization. And then finally, data - right now, it's really the Wild West when it comes to cross-border data flows. The CCP is sucking up data from foreign countries, feeding it into their model for total control. It's a nonreciprocal arrangement. Our companies don't have the same privileges when they operate in China. We really need to figure out, what is the right regulatory model for monitoring cross-border data flows? This thing has gotten very heated right now with the question of TikTok and whether we should ban it in the United States. But data is kind of the third part of selective decoupling.

INSKEEP: Do you assume that just about any business with China somehow strengthens China in a way that is harmful to the United States?

GALLAGHER: Not - I mean, this really gets to the heart of selective decoupling, right? I don't think we should have a concern, for example, with us buying cheap goods from China other than concerns over what domestic industries that might be hollowing out. And I don't think we should have a concern, for example, about Wisconsin farmers selling soybeans to China, right? Those are low-level goods that I don't think anyone's going to say are allowing China to increase their efforts to enslave a million Uyghur Muslims.

However, there is this question of, where do you draw the line? And certainly, when it comes to Chinese state champions - we've seen this with Huawei, we've seen this with ZTE and, increasingly, we're seeing it with ByteDance and other technology companies. That, I think, is where we really have to be really skeptical of allowing them to have access to this much data in America and also skeptical of American technology being used by the CCP to do things, for example, like advance their hypersonic program.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another economic connection. I can think of any number of U.S. companies that do business in China and seem to speak very carefully as a result. The NBA is a prominent example. But we could raise Elon Musk. The owner of Tesla and current owner of Twitter, among other things, has companies that do business with the U.S. government, like SpaceX. And he's doing a lot of business in China. Does that raise a national security concern?

GALLAGHER: You mentioned the NBA. I think that caught a lot of people's attention when Daryl Morey, who, I believe, was GM of the Houston Rockets at the time, tweeted out support for the protesters in Hong Kong - many of whom were waving American flags in the streets of Hong Kong, by the way - and then quickly got silenced by the NBA and, by extension, the Chinese Communist Party. I do think that raises real and legitimate concerns about the amount of leverage that the CCP has over American businesses.

And if they're forcing businesses to self-censor - which we've also seen in Hollywood, right? We've seen a variety of movies that were edited to be more friendly to the Chinese Communist Party. I think that drives Americans wild. I think it really - the sort of hypocrisy, as well. At the time, we had people attacking America for being such an evil, neocolonial, racist hellscape, as CCP wolf warrior diplomats are doing every single day on American social media companies. And then we're softening the language we use with respect to the Chinese Communist Party. That's something that I think angers a lot of Americans. Whether it lends itself to an easy legislative solution is a different question.

INSKEEP: Are you concerned specifically about Elon Musk, who is so influential in several different industries right now?

GALLAGHER: Well, Elon Musk - I think you're right to point out that profits for Tesla come from China. And I do think Elon Musk has an opportunity with this new ownership of Twitter to do one thing that seems small but I think would have a big impact. So I mentioned Chinese diplomats, so-called wolf warrior diplomats, that are all over American social media companies. They, of course, don't allow their own citizens access to these platforms. So at the same time they're on Twitter attacking America, saying America is this terrible, evil country, Chinese citizens are barred from accessing Twitter, accessing information.

So what I would encourage Elon Musk to do is the same thing I encouraged his predecessor, Jack Dorsey, to do, which is simply apply the principle of reciprocity and say to any foreign government that doesn't allow their citizens access to these platforms, we will deny your propagandists, your diplomats access to that same policy. So that's definitely something worth looking into. And my hope is that Elon Musk will respond to the proposal with greater alacrity and depth than Jack Dorsey did.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Congressman. Do you expect a likely war over Taiwan between the United States and China in the next few years?

GALLAGHER: I'm increasingly concerned. I think we've entered the window of maximum danger for a few reasons. One, this - you know, Xi Jinping just secured a third term as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He's 69, I believe, right now. This is his legacy issue. He's repeatedly talked about doing what Mao couldn't do - taking Taiwan - reunifying Taiwan with the mainland, using force if necessary. So there's his personal ambition, and then there's sort of the looming challenges he faces in the 2030s - exploding demographic issues. No society ever has dealt with this many retirees.

So there's all sorts of things conspiring to make the next five years the best opportunity he'll ever get to take Taiwan by force. And there's all this bipartisan happy talk about arming Taiwan to the teeth, turning it into a porcupine, learning the lesson of deterrence failure in Ukraine and applying that to Taiwan by arming your partners before the shooting starts. But we aren't actually doing it, and that makes a deterrence failure more likely.

INSKEEP: Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, it's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

GALLAGHER: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.