What the House Needs to Do to Check the China Threat

Joe Biden says he will decide whether to run for reelection in 2024 over the Christmas and New Year holidays. It will be a strong temptation for the Biden machine to seek a second term since power is addictive. And it would be a rare move for an incumbent not to run for reelection. 

But Biden’s physical ailments, a divided Congress, likely investigations by the House of Representatives, and low poll numbers suggest the decision is not such a straightforward one. Another Democrat—perhaps California Governor Gavin Newsom or former First Lady Michelle Obama—could blame the divided Congress and the Biden Administration for inflation, probable recession, lethargic growth, and myriad other problems while promising a change that seeks to avoid responsibility for the mess. 

Even if he decides to run again, Biden is likely a lame duck for no other reason than his physical and mental decline will be more difficult to conceal in a post-COVID campaign. Under the circumstances, then, Biden’s approach to foreign and domestic policy is likely to take a page from President Obama’s playbook and rely heavily on the “pen and the phone,” and the liberal use executive orders, to advance his agenda.

In all likelihood, Biden will not have as much leverage to advance his foreign policy agenda—except in one respect. Biden could greatly strengthen Taiwan’s ability to defend itself by providing the country with the military capabilities and overt U.S. defense presence that would deter an attack from China. 

The Trump Administration labored to have a greater NATO-member presence in the Indo-Pacific with aerial and maritime Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait, and these have largely continued under Biden. Canada most recently has increased its visibility on the issue with FONOPs and its “generation” shift in its Indo-Pacific strategy document released in late November to counter the China threat. But a lame duck Biden would have the freedom to entice a greater presence from NATO and other states, such as Australia, India, and Japan, specifically on Taiwan. Biden would have the chance to act forcefully on trade, intellectual property protection, and Wall Street’s and Silicon Valley’s cooperation with Beijing.

More realistically, though, the Biden Administration is unlikely to take any bold steps to confront China or advance American interests in the Indo-Pacific. 

Based on what we’ve seen thus far, the final two years of the Biden Administration will be like the first two: a litany of lost opportunities to protect the American people and homeland, U.S. national security interests, or allies and partners against the China threat. Given there will not be bold action, the United States cannot afford another two years of half-measures and insouciance against the threat. 

Given weakness in the executive, the House of Representatives would be better suited to fill the void and devise effective action against China. 

The House is an imperfect mechanism but there is much that can be accomplished to address the threat in the immediate term but also to set the stage for the next president to act. The touted committee on China is an excellent tool for identifying the full nature of the threat from Beijing. The committee’s work, in conjunction with sister committees, will most likely include, first, identifying Chinese penetration of the homeland and the undermining of Americans’ health, economic livelihoods, and birthrights as American citizens, and devising solutions to combat it. Second, a similar assessment is needed of China’s global expansion and how it may be countered. 

It’s necessary work, made more difficult by likely opposition from the administration and the Democratic-controlled Senate. Nevertheless, the committee would have the opportunity to focus on the China threat as never before. The message that would send to Beijing is significant. The Biden Administration may not see the immediate threat, the House surely does. It will labor to roll back years of Chinese Communist Party penetration of the American elite and document how Beijing works against the American people and U.S. interests. The signal the House sends to U.S. allies and partners is important, too.  

While the U.S. government’s overall response to the China threat is of rather uneven quality, in the House at least there are serious strategists working to stop the CCP’s aggression. Bold measures are needed, such as an invitation to the president of Taiwan to address Congress. Invitations to Chinese human rights activities, dissidents, Tibetans, and survivors of China’s genocide against the Muslims of Xinjiang should be considered as well. While the necessary leadership is unlikely to come from the White House, Republicans have an opportunity to take bold steps to prevent the China crisis from worsening.

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About Bradley A. Thayer

Bradley A. Thayer is coauthor of Understanding the China Threat and Director of China Policy at the Center for Security Policy.

Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images