The second Republican presidential debate is set for Wednesday night, and if Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., chairman of the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, were the debate’s moderator, he knows what he would ask the candidates relating to China.
“Maybe the most obvious question is perhaps the most important, which is: ‘Why should an average American care about the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party?’” he says.
“It may be obvious to those of us who work in D.C. or people who work at think tanks in D.C., but at times I fear it can seem like a distant “over there” threat, when my view is very much that it’s a “right here at home threat” and a threat to American sovereignty,” says Gallagher, who is also chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on cyber, information technologies, and innovation.
Gallagher, also member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, adds:
Perhaps the most important policy question, though, is: ‘What is your plan for rebuilding American military power in order to deter a war with China over Taiwan?’
And then, if they want to stoke debate, they can ask questions about TikTok, because candidates have different opinions about whether we should ban TikTok, force a sale, or do nothing at all.
Gallagher joins today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss some key issues relating to China that he thinks candidates should be focused on and address while campaigning, along with his pitch to young voters who are on TikTok about why the Chinese app should be banned.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Samantha Aschieris: Today I have the honor of welcoming Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District to “The Daily Signal Podcast.” Rep. Gallagher is the chairman of the China select committee in the House of Representatives. Chairman Gallagher, thanks so much for joining us.
Rep. Mike Gallagher: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Aschieris: Of course. Now, as we all know, the 2024 presidential cycle is in full gear now. We have the second GOP presidential debate on Wednesday night. If you were the moderator for the debate, what would you, as chairman of the China select committee, ask the candidates relating to China?
Gallagher: Well, maybe the most obvious question is perhaps the most important, which is, “Why should an average American care about the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party?” It may be obvious to those of us who work in D.C. or people who work at think tanks in D.C., but at times I fear it can seem like a distant, over-there threat, when my view is very much that it’s a right-here-at-home threat and a threat to American sovereignty.
And I suggest that question because I think, actually, more important than any particular policy stance or getting in the weeds on this and that issue is that a candidate who wants to become commander in chief see the threat very clearly and be able to explain that threat to the American people in simple and direct terms.
And I actually think, given that the debate is happening at the Reagan Library, that was in many ways the genius of Ronald Reagan. He did not mince words in terms of calling out the Soviet Union as the “evil empire.” And I think Americans appreciated that level of directness, that frankness. And he happened to be right in terms of the nature of the Marxist-Leninist regime.
Perhaps the most important policy question, though, is, “What is your plan for rebuilding American military power in order to deter a war with China over Taiwan?” And then if they want to stoke debate, they can ask questions about TikTok, because candidates have different opinions about whether we should ban TikTok, force a sale, or do nothing at all.
Aschieris: And just a follow-up question, with the question that you would pose, what would you like to see in a response from the candidates?
Gallagher: I would say this, the Chinese Communist Party is trying to destroy us. Now, they might not put it in those terms, but they’re certainly trying to replace America as the global superpower, and in so doing render our constitutional system of self-government and our leadership of the free world irrelevant in the process.
Perhaps the best analogy is one of physician-assisted suicide. They supply the self-loathing in the form of their propaganda effort. They supply the chemicals in the form of lethal fentanyl coming across our southern border. They supply the isolation in terms of severing our traditional partnerships and our alliances. All of this is designed not to attack Americans directly, but to allow or convince us to destroy ourselves.
Put differently, the famous book that one of the most powerful members of the Chinese Communist Party, Wang Huning, wrote about America in the ’90s, which is “America Against America,” which is the description of what he perceived to be the factionalism and the conflict inherent in American society, actually describes their plan to weaken us while they increase their power, not only regionally but globally.
And that sort of description may sound absurd to sophisticated audiences, but I actually think it happens to be true. And I think we would be naive to think that this problem is just going to be confined to the Indo-Pacific, confined to the first island chain.
One thing I like to say about why Taiwan matters is that Las Vegas rules don’t apply. What happens there will not stay there. That will be Step One in a multistage effort to displace us from the region and ultimately replace us as the dominant global power.
Aschieris: Why is it important for presidential candidates, regardless of political affiliation, to focus on the threat that the CCP poses, not only to the United States, but to the free world more generally?
Gallagher: The CCP is our top geopolitical adversary, it carries the most risks in the near term and the long term.
In the near term the risk is that we find ourselves stumbling into war in the Pacific over Taiwan, for which we are not well-prepared right now. And a war over Taiwan, even if it somehow remained confined to Taiwan itself, would be incredibly destructive in terms of lives lost and money spent. It would dwarf, in very short order, would dwarf the losses in terms of life and treasure that we experienced over 20 years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Therefore, preventing war, deterring war should be our top foreign policy objective, particularly when dealing with a near-peer competitor like China.
Over the long term it’s the biggest threat because China, as I alluded to before, wants to supplant us as the dominant global power, and do so in part by controlling the commanding heights of technology.
So for your listeners, imagine anytime you see an American company or a multinational corporation or an industry bowing down to Chinese pressure because they want access to the Chinese market or they fear the Chinese economic response. Well, a world in which China is the world leader in [artificial intelligence] technology, quantum technology, biotechnology, take your pick, is a world in which that coercive power expands exponentially. And people will fear to say anything critical of the regime or do anything outside the bounds of [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping thought, for fear of finding themselves the subject of that coercive economic power.
Which is why I think the stakes of this competition are existential in at least two senses. One is that a war that escalated severely, particularly to the nuclear level, could have existential consequences. And two, a world in which we don’t fight a war but we lose a cold war could fundamentally change the nature of America if people are afraid to speak their mind, or if the entire global order is reshaped in the CCP’s image.
Aschieris: You just brought up Taiwan. Can you walk us through some key issues relating to China that you think candidates should be focused on and address while campaigning?
Gallagher: I think the three wedge issues, at least from my perspective in Congress, the three issues we were debating most heavily right now are, on the military line of effort, there’s a question of, “How do we best deter an invasion?” Well, A, should we defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion? Our policy is deliberately ambiguous right now. And two, how do we do that? What can you do in the next two years to really enhance or deter in posture?
And there I think a question is fair game because candidates should be forced to go beyond just talking points about rebuild the military, Reagan this. I think forcing candidates to get specific about their plan for the Pentagon if they’re commander in chief would be a very useful exercise, because the reality is the president is going to have to force massive reform onto a Pentagon that has traditionally resisted it. If in no other area than shifting resources so that it’s not evenly split among the services and prioritize the Navy and the Air Force given the topography of our priority theater, the Indo-Pacific.
Then, of course, tackling the biggest branch of the military, which is [Department of Defense] civilians, which is over 815,000 people. And it’s consuming a massive amount of resources that could be better spent on weapons and training and recruiting the top-level talented people in America to serve this country.
When it comes to technology, I think an interesting question would be, “How do the candidates feel in terms of the guardrails that we should place on outbound investments in China? Should there be restrictions on the ability of Americans directly or indirectly to invest in Chinese technology?”
And our investigation on the select committee on China has revealed that massive asset managers and indices continue to allow billions of American dollars to fund Chinese military companies that are building things designed to kill Americans in a future conflict.
The Republican Party is divided on this issue. There are some who are far more sympathetic to the view of Wall Street that there should be no restrictions, and there are some arguing, like myself, for restrictions that go beyond the executive order that [President Joe] Biden just released.
And finally, and I’m sorry to go on, I do think the TikTok question is important. It’s not an easy issue. I don’t mean to suggest that this is an easy issue, but if we continue along the status quo, which is to say, “do nothing,” TikTok could become the dominant media platform in America.
So we have to ask ourselves this question as to whether we want a company that’s owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, which is effectively controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, to be the dominant media platform in America.
And if you don’t, as I don’t, then what do you do about it? Do you want to ban it? Do you want to force a sale? How do the candidates intend to succeed where the Trump administration failed? They tried to force a sale, but their ban and forced sale effort ran into a legal buzzsaw.
The Biden administration has been in limbo for the last two years, at times hinting they’re going to do something, at times flirting with a mitigation agreement under CFIUS, which I think would be flawed. And now it seems capitulating to the whims of younger voters and not wanting to anger younger voters by doing nothing.
And TikTok has launched a massive multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign designed to scare Congress into doing nothing.
So I think that’s a fair question and also will test the candidates on whether they understand technology issues, which I guess as a younger member of Congress, my bias is wanting younger candidates who have a little bit more knowledge of technology.
So I think those are the three wedge issues that the candidates could be drawn out on.
Aschieris: I’m so glad you brought up TikTok and also young voters because I did want to ask you, what is your pitch to young voters who are on TikTok about why the app should be banned?
Gallagher: Well, the concern is not just that the Chinese Communist Party can track your location, that it could track your browser history, effectively anything that you’re doing on your phone, the broader concern is that it controls the information you get.
So ask yourself if you want a regime that has already proven its willingness to suppress information related to an ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, suppress information related to the outbreak and origin of the coronavirus pandemic, which upended all of our lives—and the fact that we were unable to respond in a timely manner because of the CCP’s cover-up of the origin of COVID cost millions of lives and trillions of dollars. This revealed something very fundamental about the nature of this regime, and you have to ask yourself if you want them to determine the type of information that you receive.
And this idea that there’s no other alternatives, my gosh, I think that reflects a low opinion on the ingenuity in America. I guess I could make a less sexy argument that makes me feel like an old man yelling, “Get off my lawn,” which is that social media in general is not healthy for you and that you’ll find yourself incredibly successful in life. If you can wean yourself off of your social media addiction you’ll be eons beyond your peers and you’ll be endlessly employable and undeniably rich at the end of it.
But I would focus on the national security concerns involved in having the Chinese Communist Party control this. It’s why I’ve called it, to use FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr’s phrase, “digital fentanyl,” because it’s both highly addictive, highly addictive and we know that that level of social media addiction is correlated with rising levels of anxiety, suicide, and depression among young people, young women in particular. And it can be traced back to China, like the precursors for fentanyl itself. Because you cannot separate ByteDance’s control of the algorithm from the CCP’s effective control over ByteDance.
Aschieris: Chairman Gallagher, just before we go, I just wanted to touch a little bit more on Taiwan, and Xi Jinping has his eye set on reunification with the island. From your perspective and from the work that the committee has been doing, why does Xi Jinping want Taiwan, and what are some ways that the United States and the West can deter Xi Jinping and the Communist Party from moving ahead with so-called reunification?
Gallagher: I think for a few reasons. One, he wants to succeed where Mao [Zedong] failed, and I think his ability to take Taiwan will put him on par with Mao as the paramount leader in their systems. And of course, being the head of the Chinese Communist Party views Taiwan to be part of China and this to be unresolved business, stemming from the Chinese Civil War.
Two, Taiwan is an economic powerhouse when it comes to semiconductors, and effective control over that level of semiconductor production would allow Xi Jinping to take the rest of the world hostage.
And third, it’ll put him in a position where he can be the dominant power in the Indo-Pacific region and ultimately, the dominant power globally.
And if we are unable to help a democratic friend, a democratic society like Taiwan, stand up in the face of authoritarian aggression, I think he believes it will prove one of his points, which is that his form of government is on the rise and our form of government, democracy, is falling slowly. And so we need to reverse that narrative, reverse that momentum.
What can we do to prevent it? The most important thing is to learn the lessons of the failure of deterrence in Ukraine and to put hard power in Xi Jinping’s path before it’s too late. Because what we learned in Ukraine, painfully, a war in which we’re not directly involved but is nonetheless costing us a lot of money and costing Ukrainians and the Russians a ton of lives, is that soft power alone does not deter.
The vague threat of sanctions, sternly-worded scoldings and tweets coming out of the State Department are not enough to deter dictators like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin or Xi Jinping. You have to speak to them in the language they understand, which is hard power, which leads to a paradox.
Ultimately, in order to prevent a war, to prevent World War III, you need rearm, you need to prepare for a war in order to effectuate peace. So that’s what we need to do and that’s where the next president of the United States is going to be absolutely critical.
If I could say one more thing, at the risk of boring you and your audience here, if you just look historically at what it’s taken to diffuse the previous standoffs over Taiwan, and … there’s been three crises, two in the ’50s and one in the mid-’90s, even then, when we were way more powerful militarily than the Chinese Communist Party, it took a remarkable amount of presidential fortitude and a willingness to wield hard power.
Because [President Dwight] Eisenhower deployed massive amounts of hard power to Taiwan itself. [President] Bill Clinton in the ’90s staged the biggest show of force since the end of the Vietnam War in order to diffuse this crisis. That’s what it took the previous three times we found ourselves in a confrontation with China over Taiwan.
The fourth Taiwan Strait crisis will be even more taxing for the next commander in chief, which is why it’s so important that we elect someone who’s capable of diffusing that crisis and simultaneously dealing with the fiscal crisis we have domestically. And the two of those things are, of course, related.
Aschieris: Well, Chairman Gallagher, thank you so much for joining the show today. Just before we go, any final thoughts? Can you preview anything about what the committee’s going to be up to for the rest of the year?
Gallagher: Well, we’re going to continue to put out policy recommendations, particularly when it comes to economics, technology, and the non-military aspects of this competition.
Maybe the message, having just spent the last 20 minutes or so being like Mr. Doom and Gloom on your podcast, the message I’d like to get out there via the committee’s work, and certainly the message I’d like to hear from presidential candidates on the Republican side, and to tie it back to Reagan, why I think he was so effective, is that we are the good guys.
In this new cold war, our side, the free world, deserves to win because our system of government and the values that protects are those that maximize human freedom and thereby human flourishing and protect human dignity.
And that unapologetic defense of American values and American leadership I think is essential if we are going to generate the urgency necessary to do big things at the state level and at the federal level, in order to win this competition going forward.
Aschieris: Well, great. Chairman Mike Gallagher, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
Gallagher: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
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The post What Congress’ China Committee Chairman Would Ask Candidates at GOP Presidential Debate appeared first on The Daily Signal.
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