On February 7, 2023, the House Committee on Armed Services (the “Committee”) held a hearing entitled “The Pressing Threat of the Chinese Communist Party to U.S. National Defense.” This hearing marked the Committee’s first in the 118th Congress and it focused on U.S. strategic competition with the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) of the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”). This overview is the first in a series of legislative updates we will provide on congressional oversight activities related to China throughout the Congress, including specific activities focused on trade controls, supply chain dependencies, and PRC-sourced telecommunications infrastructure in U.S. networks.
Admiral Harry Harris, USN (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Dr. Melanie Sisson, Foreign Policy Fellow at the Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, appeared before the committee as witnesses. The substance and tenor of their testimony, reflected throughout the hearing from member statements, was bipartisan agreement that the PRC and the CCP pose a significant threat to the United States and its way of life.
Key members to watch this Congress, all of whom participated in the hearing, include, Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI), HASC Member and Chairman of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the CCP, as well as Select Committee Members Rob Wittman (R-VA), Jim Banks (R-IN), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Andy Kim (D-NJ), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), and newly elected Carlos Gimenez (R-FL).
We expect these members will work together over the coming months to advance legislative measures in the defense authorization bill to address perceived threats posed by the CCP, particularly after its recent deployment of a surveillance balloon over the United States and military exercises near “Taiwan”.
Key policy takeaways from the hearing include:
- The CCP’s military capability in hypersonic missile technology, artificial intelligence (“AI”), quantum computing, and space-based capabilities continues to advance at a rapid pace.
- Admiral (Ret.) Harris’s suggestion that the CCP is signaling its intent to re-unify Taiwan, by force if necessary, and his recommendation that U.S. policymakers pursue a U.S.-Taiwan bilateral trade agreement to show other nations that the United States is committed in its support of Taiwan. Admiral Harris also recommended U.S. policymakers ensure that U.S. trade controls, such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”), do not unnecessarily impede the transfer of U.S. nuclear submarine technology to Australia under the trilateral AUKUS agreement.
- The need for the United States to deepen diplomatic and security partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region to enhance deterrence, including furthering diplomatic and security-related outreach with countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
- The importance of the United States moving away from dependency on Russian-made rockets for space launch services in light of active competition by Russia and China with the United States in space. Additionally, the U.S. should accelerate cyber and AI capabilities, and increase investments in both offensive and defensive hypersonic missile technology.
- The dependency of the United States’ supply chain on China remains a growing area of concern, particularly for the defense industrial base. For instance, Admiral Harris testified that materials that comprise the energetics for weapons systems (i.e., propulsion materials for munitions) represent a current supply chain weakness, given that approximately 90 percent of current U.S. energetics materials are sourced from the PRC.
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This hearing represents the first iteration in what we expect to be an ongoing focus on perceived threats posed by the CCP. As Congress’ fact finding begins to turn into legislative action, companies can likely expect to see greater restrictions on interactions with China and increased requirements for supply chain illumination, particularly when selling to the U.S. Government. Our multidisciplinary team will continue to monitor these efforts and is uniquely positioned to provide thoughtful strategic advice to clients seeking to monitor and react to these evolving U.S.-China-related issues. Our team includes:
- Michele Pearce, co-chair of Covington’s Public Policy practice and former General Counsel (Acting) of the Department of the Army, Deputy General Counsel (Legislation) at DoD, and Senior Defense Advisor to Senator Susan Collins.
- Stephanie Barna, a former senior leader on Capitol Hill and in DoD whose experience includes serving as General Counsel of the Senate Armed Services Committee and as a senior executive in the Office of the Army General Counsel.
- Alex Hastings, a senior lawyer in Covington’s Government Contracts practice who maintains an active regulatory counseling practice, advising defense and other government contractors on proposal, performance, and compliance matters.