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Opinion So Republicans want to look tough on China? Here’s how they can start.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 4. (Eric Lee/Bloomberg)
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In an effort to show that they are serious about China, Republicans on Tuesday set up a new select committee to focus on the nation.

But they don’t need a new committee to do that. (Why isn’t the existing House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and nonproliferation a sufficient venue?) What the party really needs is for its members to abandon positions that would hurt the United States’ ability to counter China’s aggression.

The new committee will be headed by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who fashions himself a hawk on China. But Gallagher voted against the Chips and Science Act, which real GOP China hawks such as former Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney supported. That’s because it was the most aggressive attempt in recent memory to boost semiconductor chip manufacturing at home and ensure that China does not dominate the critical industry.

Maybe Republicans should have selected Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) instead, who — along with 23 other House Republicans and 17 Senate Republicans — supported the law. As he said in a statement last year, “This legislation is a strategic investment in the nation’s economic and national security, and I could not be prouder that my idea two years ago to secure the critical advanced semiconductor supply chain has now become law. This is a big win for Texas and for U.S. national security.” With McCaul at the helm of the committee, its first hearing for the new subcommittee might look at the effectiveness of the law.

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Another Republican who would be a better option to lead the committee: Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas. He understands that military strength is critical to deterring China’s aggression, which is why he strongly opposed the pledge that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) made to the extremists in his party to cap spending at 2022 levels, which would amount to a $75 billion cut to defense spending. As Gonzales explained on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” “How am I going to look at our allies in the eye and say, I need you to increase your defense budget, but yet America is going to decrease ours?” Indeed, the committee would do well to renounce any defense cuts that would undermine national security and U.S. support for Taiwan.

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Perhaps Republicans might also find someone to lead the committee who isn’t bent on repealing the Inflation Reduction Act, which also helps the United States’ competitiveness against China. Ilaria Mazzocco at the Center for Strategic and International Studies explains, “China has long been perceived as the largest commercial beneficiary of the clean energy transition thanks to its centrality in clean energy technology supply chains. To address the concern that decarbonization efforts in the United States may create business opportunities and jobs in China rather than domestically, the $369 billion allocated for climate also includes some clear industrial policy provisions that could improve the odds for U.S. manufacturing of clean energy technologies.” The committee could follow the lead of former attorney general William P. Barr to make the case that the United States shouldn’t be dependent on China for electric vehicles.

It could also explore the 39 recommendations that the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission made last year. This includes requiring the Food and Drug Administration to “identify pharmaceutical products that utilize active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and other ingredients and inputs that are sourced directly or indirectly from the People’s Republic of China and develop alternative sourcing arrangements through available tools and resources, including Defense Production Act authorities.” Alas, when it comes to prescription drugs, Republicans seem solely concerned with removing President Biden’s cost containment measures.

Beyond dropping policy positions harmful to our national security, there are many things Republicans can do to demonstrate they are serious about China. For example, China’s influence on social media platforms is well known. Lawmakers from both parties have already called for TikTok’s separation from China. Republicans could also follow the lead of Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in demanding that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States — which is part of the executive branch — investigate Twitter’s connection to China. Certainly, the new select committee should not be shy about hauling in Twitter’s owner, Elon Musk, to testify about its foreign investors.

One can certainly argue that the select committee is duplicative and hypocritical, considering the widespread opposition among Republicans to measures seeking to combat the threat from China. But if Democrats on the committee play their cards right, they might push the MAGA majority into taking real steps to confront economic and military challenges from China — or, at least, to stop taking stances that hobble the U.S. response to the threat.