Reviving Engagement With China ‘Counterproductive and Dangerous’: Rep. Gallagher

By Eva Fu
Eva Fu
Eva Fu
Reporter
Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S. politics, U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at eva.fu@epochtimes.com
June 15, 2023Updated: July 3, 2023

In trying to engage China, the Biden administration is reviving a China policy that hasn’t worked for decades, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) warned.

“Time and time again, engagement—particularly engagement just for the sake of engagement—has undermined the urgency we need to actually win this competition. The fact that the Biden administration is reviving diplomatic and economic engagement as a core pillar of our grand strategy, I think, is counterproductive and dangerous,” he told The Epoch Times sister media outlet NTD on June 15.

Gallagher, who chairs the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), made the remarks as Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared for his trip to Beijing, one that would make the top U.S. diplomat the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit China amid rising U.S.–China tensions.

Originally scheduled for February, the meeting was shelved because of fallout from the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the United States. In a tense preview just days ahead of the visit, Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang told Blinken in a June 14 phone call to stop “meddling with” what the regime described as its “internal affairs,” such as Taiwan.

Gallagher believes Blinken is making the trip at the wrong moment, noting that it’s only a week since the public found out about the Beijing regime’s investment in Cuba for a “massive spying station right in our own neighborhood.”

“The attempts by the administration to revive engagement after it’s failed for 20 years, I just don’t know what that achieves other than to force us to slow walk certain defensive actions,” he said, citing sanctions on key Chinese officials over continued human rights abuses and the need to tighten export licenses to U.S. suppliers of blacklisted Chinese telecom firm Huawei, as examples.

Epoch Times Photo
Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks during an event honoring the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Heroes at State Department headquarters in Washington on June 15, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“In order to even get to the negotiating table, it seems we make these concessions to the CCP or they humiliate us in the process,” he said.

Blinken’s efforts mark the latest in a string of attempts for Washington to engage with Beijing, which has largely resisted bilateral exchanges on military levels, including since the U.S. downed the Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast. Gallagher recalled Beijing’s refusal earlier to a U.S. invitation to have Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a summit in Singapore in early June.

“They not only said ‘no thank you’—this is a sanctioned official, by the way,” said the Wisconsin lawmaker, referring to 2018 sanctions imposed on Li over his role in the purchases of aircraft and equipment from Russia. “They then sent a warship to buzz dangerously one of our destroyers in the vicinity of Taiwan.”

Earlier this month, Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, headed to Beijing for a “candid” and “productive” discussion with Chinese officials, which the U.S. side described as “part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication.”

But that move was inappropriate given the timing, Gallagher said, noting that it coincided with the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the regime’s bloody military suppression that killed hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-democracy protesters.

The State Department has played down hopes that the Blinken meeting will yield a “breakthrough or transformation in the way that we deal with one another.”

“We’re coming to Beijing with a realistic, confident approach and a sincere desire to manage our competition in the most responsible way possible,” Kritenbrink told reporters in a briefing call on June 14.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel J. Kritenbrink (left) listens during a meeting with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on July 12, 2022. (TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP via Getty Images)

Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), a member of the House China Committee, echoed Gallagher’s view.

“We need to project strength, not weakness,” he told NTD. “And when you reward bad behavior, you get more bad behavior.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is supportive of Blinken’s trip as he expressed hope to “de-conflict” by creating “some level of communication” on the defense side.

“I hope that he will create some paradigm of how there will be competition, but it doesn’t mean that we have to have conflicts,” he told The Epoch Times, adding that he also hopes the topic of tackling illicit fentanyl, the precursor of which has primarily flowed from China, is included in the bilateral discussion.

Gallagher said he is “all for a crisis communication channel,” but believes the initiative should come from the Chinese side.

“The problem is the Chinese Communist Party is not picking up the phone at the other end,” he said. “They’re not willing to engage. They’re not willing to abide by the international rules.”

The alternative, he said, is to “dramatically enhance our military deterrent in the Indo-Pacific in general and across the Taiwan Strait,” reduce dependence on China for critical goods, and push back against Chinese espionage, while making sure that “we’re working aggressively with our allies and partners to strengthen the free world as the Chinese Communist Party aggression grows greater.”

Kurt Campbell, National Security Council coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, said on June 14 in response to a query from The Epoch Times that “there is nothing inconsistent with competing vigorously and talking with the PRC on a range of issues.”

While noting that “efforts to shape or reform China over several decades have failed,” he said, “intense competition requires intense diplomacy if we’re going to manage tensions.”

“The world expects us to work together on climate, health security, global macroeconomic stability, and other challenges. We can’t let the disagreements that might divide us stand in the way of moving forward on the global priorities that require us all to work together,” he said, adding that Blinken’s trip will advance this approach, and “a series of visits in both directions” will follow in the future.

Jackson Richman and NTD’s Melina Wisecup contributed to this report. 

This article has been updated with a response from the State Department.