Whether Republicans will take control of the U.S. House is as yet unclear, although a narrow House majority would be in line with the results reported so far. If they do, then addressing China’s challenge to the U.S.-led democratic international order will be their foreign policy priority.
Expect House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), should he become Speaker, to establish a dedicated China committee in the House of Representatives.
This would come alongside a big push for further restrictions on Chinese tech exports. Although the Biden administration has advanced Trump administration actions in this regard, far more can be done. Republicans will likely attempt to limit the activity of Chinese platforms such as TikTok and place more scrutiny on how and where data is being stored and used by Chinese affiliates. More aggressive and timely efforts to restrict China’s access to semiconductor chips are also likely. We should expect to see a particular focus on restricting exports that will help develop the People’s Liberation Army’s technical base. One thing to watch is how more populist and security-focused Republicans engage with more traditional pro-business Republicans such as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The former group will want more robust restrictions on U.S. companies that invest in and do business with China. The latter will want to temper these efforts in accordance with guidance from lobbying groups such as the Chamber of Commerce.
One certainty, however, is a Republican push for significant boosts to military spending. As two GOP House Armed Services Committee members outlined for the Washington Examiner on Monday, there is a growing sense of urgency among Republicans when it comes to China’s military threat. New military investments will hopefully be prioritized on capabilities that would most make a difference against China, such as survivable warships and stocks of long-range strike munitions, for example.
Under a Republican House, we should also expect significant new appropriations to boost the speed, scale, and diversity of arms sales to Taiwan and U.S. allies such as Australia and Japan. This will be a far easier sell for Republican leaders than new funds for Ukraine (though those funds will ultimately be allocated). On the flip side, efforts by the Philippines and Vietnam to bolster relations with Beijing may see Republican countermeasures in terms of trade restrictions.
Still, Taiwan would be the key focus. Recognizing China’s likely expedited timeline for attacking the island democracy — something an increasing number of U.S. military analysts see occurring between 2023-2027 — Republicans will move quickly to harden up Taiwan’s defenses. Unlike the White House and many Congressional Democrats, Republicans are less concerned about aggravating China through such activity. As an extension, expect early and regular high-level visits to Taiwan from McCarthy and other GOP leaders. One curveball here: Taiwan may not increase its deficient defense spending in tandem with new U.S. allocations, thus playing to concerns over free-riding off U.S. taxpayers.
Another priority would come in the form of increased oversight of links between the U.S. academic and scientific communities and Chinese entities. This effort won’t begin and end with grillings of Anthony Fauci over federal grants to Chinese research agencies, for example. The Biden administration has infuriated Republicans and the intelligence community (the FBI, in particular) with its ending of the Trump administration’s “China Initiative.” Designed to disrupt Chinese influence peddling and espionage activity, the initiative fell victim to Democratic concerns over political correctness. Expect Republicans to call hearings involving institutions such as Harvard University that have built close links with Chinese Communist Party-aligned organizations.
The White House would also face far greater scrutiny due to the majority’s power to compel testimony and documents. That may make for uncomfortable hearings for individuals such as Hunter Biden, who did lucrative business with Communist Party-aligned officials. Nor for Biden administration officials such as climate Czar John Kerry, who has put climate cooperation with Beijing before all other concerns. Interestingly, China fears it may lose leverage, as one of its main strategies is to make promises on climate change (usually not intending to keep them) in return for U.S. concessions in other areas. As a Renmin University professor close to the Communist Party told the South China Morning Post this week, “The Republicans support traditional energy and oppose cooperation on climate change, so there may be obstacles there.”
In short, a Republican House will not stop tensions with China from rising — it might even cause them to rise a bit faster.