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Congress enjoys a rare bipartisan moment as lawmakers address China

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Congress enjoys a rare bipartisan moment today when lawmakers come together to address China. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh reports.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher chairs a new House committee created to put a spotlight on the threats posed by China. He says a recent news story made that job a little easier.

MIKE GALLAGHER: A Chinese spy balloon drifting over the country and circling our nuclear ICBM facilities has a way of bringing the threat close to home.

WALSH: Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, the top Democrat on the panel, says his constituents already feel the impact of China's influence.

RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI: Everyone seems to have their own stories, whether they are a small business person or whether they are concerned about the crackdown on dissent or human rights.

WALSH: Both lawmakers want to lay out the economic and national security threats posed by China for the American people. One area they agree on is banning the social media platform TikTok from operating in the U.S. They're concerned the app is taking users' data. And its parent company has ties to the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party. Gallagher worries about what that means for Americans.

GALLAGHER: It can be used to influence the news, what people see and talk about, and therefore to interfere in our society and our politics and our very democracy.

WALSH: The looming threat from China on America's economy spurred Congress to act last year, passing a bill investing more than $50 billion for U.S. manufacturers to boost semiconductor production. President Biden noted at the summer bill signing that the U.S. went from pioneering the technology to only producing 10% of the supply of these critical building blocks of consumer products like cars and cellphones. But he argued now...

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We are better positioned than any other nation in the world to win the economic competition of the 21st century.

WALSH: Lawmakers say the use of a surveillance balloon by China only reinforces the need for a comprehensive security plan.

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MARCO RUBIO: The rest of this century will be defined by what happens between the United States and China.

WALSH: That's Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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RUBIO: This is not just a military challenge. China has fused its commercial, military and technological applications in ways no other nation ever has. So it's a multifaceted challenge.

WALSH: Part of that challenge is also increased China aggression over Taiwan, an island democracy that governs itself but that China claims as its territory. The U.S. has its own relationship with Taiwan, deep trade ties and it supplies weapons to them. Here's Krishnamoorthi again.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: We want to do everything we can to help Taiwan deter or prevent aggression by the CCP. We don't want open hostilities to break out in that part of the world, which could lead to very severe consequences for the region.

WALSH: In terms of domestic policies Congress could zero in on this year, Krishnamoorthi says it's important to focus on skills training for U.S. workers to be competitive in fields like robotics and artificial intelligence. He also says the U.S. immigration system penalizes those who come to innovate but are forced to leave because they can't get visas.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: This is the U.S. shooting itself in the foot repeatedly on immigration. And now it has real-world consequences when adversarial regimes take advantage of our weaknesses and it comes back to haunt us.

WALSH: For now, both Democrats and Republicans say there's an opportunity to lay the groundwork and come up with new policies on workforce training, immigration and education that would help the U.S. compete with China.

Deirdre Walsh, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALICE COLTRANE'S "TURIYA AND RAMAKRISHNA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
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