Lost in all the manic coverage of the Chinese spy-balloon incident was an extraordinary act by Congress. On Feb. 9, with barely any discussion, the House of Representatives voted unanimously, 419-0, to pass House Resolution 104, “Condemning the Chinese Communist Party’s Use of a High-Altitude Surveillance Balloon over United States Territory.” Though lacking any legal status – the Senate did not adopt a similar measure, so it was not sent on to President Joe Biden for his signature – the resolution provides political cover for those who favor a tougher line toward China, including a more permissive stance regarding the use of force.
The resolution avows that “it should be the policy of the United States to promptly and decisively act to prevent foreign aerial surveillance platforms” from violating U.S. territory. In other words, shoot them down.
Nowhere in the resolution is there any acknowledgment that the administration may have overreacted to the balloon intrusion from Feb. 2-4 – for example, by shooting down three hobbyists’ devices in the days following the initial incident. Rather, it is largely devoted to hostile, condemnatory language.
A unanimous display of anti-Chinese fervor bodes poorly for the future of U.S.-China relations, particularly coming at a moment when Congress and the White House face a host of challenges to bilateral ties. These include a fresh round of provocative congressional visits to Taiwan, a bipartisan drive to boost defense spending, and a new congressional committee determined to counter China’s global influence.
Last summer, a visit to Taiwan by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi produced a dangerous rupture in U.S.-China relations, with China firing a salvo of ballistic missiles around the island and announcing the suspension of talks on climate change and military crisis management.
Now, with Congress poised to pass a host of additional measures aimed at pummeling China, leaders of the Republican majority in the House are making plans for another round of high-profile congressional visits to Taiwan.
As House Speaker Kevin McCarthy prepares to visit, we can be certain that Beijing will undertake a comparable show of military force. The question arises: With all the bellicose rhetoric emanating from Beijing and Washington, will Xi be able to contain the responses at the same level as seen last August, during Pelosi’s visit, or will he feel compelled to raise them one or two notches higher? And if so, what might that entail? Is this the way World War III will erupt?
Resolution 104 condemns China without a hint of doubt about what occurred. With such negligible resistance to warmongering, we can only face with trepidation a more serious crisis.
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