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Congress puts a spotlight on threats it believes China's government is posing

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Congress is putting a spotlight on the strategic relationship between the U.S. and China. A new House panel is holding a primetime hearing tonight. Its chair, Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher, described the current dynamic between the two countries.

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MIKE GALLAGHER: We may call this a strategic competition, but it's not a polite tennis match. This is an existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century.

CHANG: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now from the Capitol. Hey, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So I realize that we are seeing something pretty rare on this committee - actual bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans on the same page. Tell me more.

WALSH: Right. In this year of divided government in Washington, this debate over China is really showing a real bipartisan spot. The new House committee that kicked off its first public hearing actually took a page from the January 6 committee, even had its hearing in the same room. And it used the same approach in terms of using multimedia presentations to make its point and create this narrative. Lawmakers and witnesses used videos to show those watching at home what they see as the economic and security threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party. The top Democrat on the panel, Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois, did stress that the panel does need to avoid stereotypes and work across party lines.

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RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI: The CCP is counting on us to be divided. We must rise to the occasion and prove them wrong.

CHANG: OK. Well, how have the witnesses so far been helping to explain how China's actions impact Americans?

WALSH: There's been some really compelling testimony about how much the policies by the U.S. and by other countries have helped welcome China into the international community and allowed it to become a competitor economically and sort of what the impacts of those policies have meant. And they've argued that the Chinese Communist Party has taken advantage of that opportunity. There was emotional testimony from a human rights activist about her detention and treatment in work camps.

Scott Paul also testified. He's the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. He gave all these really kind of big numbers about how China has cut into U.S. market share and talked about the consequences of the U.S. posture towards China in recent years.

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SCOTT PAUL: Our hubris and neglect aided Beijing's ambitions, weakened our capabilities and hollowed out our middle class.

CHANG: OK. Well, Deirdre, meanwhile, I know that one specific proposal does have bipartisan support so far - that is banning TikTok, the social media app. Was there any movement on that today?

WALSH: There was. There was discussion about that. There has been discussion about that issue in this hearing tonight about how much control TikTok, the app whose parent company has ties to the Chinese Communist Party, has over users' data. Earlier today, there was another House panel, the Foreign Affairs Committee, that debated a bill that would essentially empower the Biden administration to set up a process to ban TikTok operating in the U.S. Chairman Mike McCaul talked about why he's pushing this bill now.

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MICHAEL MCCAUL: TikTok is a modern-day Trojan horse of the CCP, used to surveil and exploit Americans' personal information.

WALSH: There are other proposals to ban TikTok. Lawmakers recognize how popular the platform is. TikTok is pushing back, saying...

CHANG: All right.

WALSH: ...It could censor millions of Americans.

CHANG: OK. That is NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you so much, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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