By Clare Foran, CNN
March 1, 2023
Human rights advocate Tong Yi, testifies during a hearing of a special House committee dedicated to countering China, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Washington.
CNN — Bipartisan lawmakers warned of the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party on Tuesday during the first hearing of the House select committee on China, a rare demonstration of unity across the aisle in a Congress increasingly divided along partisan lines.
The panel’s chairman, Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, described the stakes in sweeping and dire terms at the outset of the hearing, saying, “This is an existential struggle over what life will look like in the 21st century – and the most fundamental freedoms are at stake.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, the panel’s top Democrat, argued that working across the aisle is critical for the US to counter the threat. “We must practice bipartisanship,” he said. “We must recognize that the CCP wants us to be fractious, partisan and prejudiced,” a reference to the Chinese Communist Party.
Gallagher made a clear distinction between the Chinese government and its citizenry, saying, “We must constantly distinguish between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people themselves, who have always been the party’s primary victims.”
And Krishnamoorthi stressed the need to “avoid anti-Chinese or Asian stereotyping at all costs.”
The hearing featured several high-profile witnesses, including former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and China expert and former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger.
McMaster said the committee “can help determine the combinations of policies and legislation necessary to counter CCP aggression and rebuild America’s and the free world’s competitive advantages.”
The hearing also featured compelling first-person testimony from Tong Yi, former secretary to one of China’s leading dissidents and human rights activist Wei Jingsheng.
Tong described being interrogated by police at a detention center in Beijing about what Wei had said to US dignitaries. “They were truly afraid that the US might listen to Wei,” she said.
Tong argued that the US must confront its own role in the development current state of affairs.
“In the US, we need to face the fact that we have helped to feed the baby dragon of the CCP until it has grown into what it now is,” she said. “Since the 1990’s US companies have enriched themselves by exploiting cheap labor in China and have in the process also enriched the CCP,” she added.
“I am a proud immigrant citizen of the US, and I want my country to do better,” Tong said.
Ahead of the hearing, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have worked to set a tone of cooperation for the panel.
The US-China relationship has garnered heightened attention in the wake of the US shooting down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, an incident that took place in early February after the balloon had traveled across the continental US. China has denied the vehicle was used for spying, saying instead it was a research airship blown off course and accusing US of overreacting to the incident.
McMaster was asked during the hearing what message China was sending to the US with the balloon. “I think the message is that we are intending to continue a broad range of surveillance activities. The balloon, I think, is in many ways a metaphor for the massive effort at espionage,” he said. “The balloon is important to look at but placing the balloon in context is perhaps most important.”
In a display of unity across party lines, the House of Representatives voted to pass a resolution condemning China’s use of the suspected surveillance balloon. The measure passed unanimously with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 419 to zero.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect the correct day of the first hearing of the House select committee on China.
CNN’s Alayna Treene contributed to this report.