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Washington in disarray after House speaker debacle

By Mark Pinkstone | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-30 07:48
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The US Capitol building is seen in Washington, D.C., the United States, Nov 4, 2022. [Xinhua/Liu Jie]

A new theatre opens up in the United States with a new Congress sworn in after a comedy of hit and miss performance for selecting the speaker of the House of Representatives.

But what will it mean to China and the rest of Asia? Not much, but it will give President Joe Biden a hard time.

Biden, a Democrat, can no longer rely on support from the now Republican-led House in passing administration bills or funding requests as the country heads toward its $31.4 trillion debt ceiling. The national debt and its possible solutions are sure to be strongly debated in the House, leading to even more disarray within the law-making body.

Taiwan was not mentioned by Kevin McCarthy in his maiden address as House speaker. But he is a keen supporter of military aid to Taiwan and wished that he or another Republican had joined his predecessor Nancy Pelosi on her fateful trip to the island last year.

The Taiwan question will remain a thorn in the US-China relationship. The US is committed to the Taiwan Policy Act, and therefore while sticking to the one-China agreement, it will continue to support Taiwan's independence, a contradiction in terms of the policy.

Three days after taking the speaker's gavel, McCarthy set up a new panel — the "House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the US and the Chinese Communist Party" — to focus on China's competitiveness and the continued battle over agriculture and intellectual property. Interestingly, the panel targets the Communist Party of China and not China as a whole, leaving the door open for the US to continue support for Taiwan.

Leading the new committee is former US Marine Corps counter-intelligence officer Mike Gallagher who is no friend of China. He is still harping on about human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and is very likely to listen to the unverified and made-to-order reports from the US' plenitude of intelligence agencies.

In the House on Jan 10, Gallagher declared: "China is the only country with the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it." The so-called "international" order is a US-contrived order to steamroll over everything which displeases the US.

In explaining why he set up the bipartisan panel, McCarthy told Congress: "One of my greatest worries about the future is that we fall behind Communist China. The fact of the matter is — the danger posed by our dependence on China is dire."

The committee has not got off to a good start, with 65 lawmakers voting against it. Among the opposition was Representative Judy Chu of California, chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, who raised concerns about the committee's potential to fuel xenophobia and violence against Asian Americans.

McCarthy is following in the footsteps of his namesake, former Republican senator Joseph McCarthy who, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, led a campaign to rid the US of all things communists. The extreme racist campaign known as McCarthyism was to rid the US of "the yellow peril" (sic). The campaign lost traction in the mid-1950s as US citizens grew tired of his misinformed rhetoric. But with the new McCarthy as speaker, McCarthyism is being rekindled, and we should not be surprised if he follows in his predecessor's footsteps with a trip to Taiwan just to provoke China's leaders.

Democrat Nancy Pelosi ran the Congress with an iron fist and abused her powers by going against the public advice of Biden and senior US military leaders of not visiting Taiwan to advocate and support the island's independence. Her irresponsible behavior almost triggered a conflict between the US and China. Her recklessness did not go unnoticed within the House, and the Speaker's responsibilities became a major issue.

Speaker McCarthy, a staunch Trump supporter, battled hard through 15 ballots before securing the coveted seat, but it was not without sacrifices. Hardliners insisted that the powers enjoyed and abused by Pelosi would not be carried forward, and now any individual member can move to oust him from office instead of calling for a motion of no confidence. He also caved in to a basket of demands from his colleagues, making him the weakest Speaker ever, and rendering his leadership virtually useless.

Although the Republican-led House is now weaker than ever and the Senate is run by the opposition Democrats, the law-making bodies of the US are now in disarray, and debates will be more about power grabbing than solving domestic and global issues.

As for Biden, he is all about keeping the lines of communication open with diplomacy while holding a spiked club behind his back. He is still obliged, by US legacy, to contain the rise of China while holding a mask of friendship. But the Taiwan question is the major obstacle to keeping the lines of communication on an even keel.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will reportedly visit Beijing within the next few months as a follow-up of the Biden-Xi meeting in Bali late last year, and hopefully, it will lead to more open communication between the two major powers. Issues will cover the release of US prisoners in China and property and technology matters. Both will discuss global warming and climate change as well as the sanctions each has imposed.

The author is a public relations and media consultant and a veteran journalist in Hong Kong.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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