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Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) called for the United States to “wage cold war” against China “with the creativity and alacrity with which we waged it against the Soviet Union” during an Institute of Politics forum on Monday.
The event — co-moderated by former Harvard Kennedy School Dean Graham T. Allison ’62 and Belfer Center Director Meghan O’Sullivan — featured Gallagher and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House’s Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.
Two days before the forum, Gallagher announced he would not seek reelection when his term ends in 2024. During the event, he embraced his newfound liberty as a retiring politician unconcerned with winning reelection in November.
“Let me put it even more provocatively — what do I have to lose, I’m leaving Congress,” he said, before calling for a cold war between Washington and Beijing.
Gallagher said the U.S. should “embrace that very competitive, high-stakes dynamic and compete aggressively” with China, acknowledging that there were worse things than a cold war.
“There’s hot war and there’s surrender,” Gallagher added. “Those two things would be much worse.”
Krishnamoorthi quickly distanced himself from Gallagher’s remarks.
“We don’t want a cold war, we don’t want a hot war, we don’t want conflict of any kind,” Krishnamoorthi said. “I don’t think the American people want this.”
Krishnamoorthi warned that a cold war could quickly turn into a real military conflict.
“If we adopt the cold war mentality, I'm concerned that we're going to trip into something else,” he said.
Gallagher, known for being the House’s top China hawk, alleged that Beijing wants to “disrupt, if not destroy” the United States’ position as a global superpower.
“Their regional vision is one in which they are the sun and everything orbits around them,” he said. “They want to displace us as the dominant superpower.”
Though Gallagher called for the U.S. to distance itself from China, he said the extensive trade network between the two countries made it difficult to separate the two economies.
“We’re conjoined twins economically,” Gallagher said. “It is so hard to disentangle.”
Still, Gallagher called for the U.S. to “reduce the coercive leverage” the CCP has over the U.S.
“The sooner we do it, the less painful it is,” he said. “This problem does not age well.”
Krishnamoorthi said the U.S. should focus on remodeling the “horrible legal immigration system” to draw talent to the country to compete with China on technological innovation. He also said the U.S. should invest in vocational education on the “technologies of the future” and “basic science.”
Krishnamoorthi called for the U.S. to engage in cultural exchange with China, particularly by reinstating Fulbright Scholarships for students hoping to study in China.
“Donald Trump ended the Fulbright Scholarship, which doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “We need our people to be able to go to China, learn about the country, and be able to bring back what they learned here.”
Gallagher was “skeptical” that exchange between individuals from both countries could alter the CCP’s decision making but said that the U.S. needs strong local ties to “win this competition.”
“We need deep regional expertise, like deep, and we are very bad at cultivating that in the military and even in the intelligence community,” he said.
“A part of that is travel and living in the region for a long period of time,” Gallagher added.
The panelists also discussed Washington’s reliance on semiconductor production in Taiwan.
“The single most important thing we can do is to build a bigger Navy and anti-Navy — our own allied Rocket Forces — so that Taiwan isn't subsumed by China,” Gallagher said.
Krishnamoorthi applauded the Biden administration’s efforts with the CHIPS Act — which issued $39 billion in financial incentives to encourage chip manufacturing in the U.S. — but called on the U.S. to “do more” to shift semiconductor activity away from Taiwan.
Krishnamoorthi acknowledged that there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to China and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We’ve got to hedge our bets,” he said. “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
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