WASHINGTON ― Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., became chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party in January, framing Sino-U.S. competition as a new Cold War.
His committee in May advanced a series of bipartisan recommendations for Congress to enact in hopes of deterring China from attacking Taiwan — which Beijing considers a rogue province and has threatened to take back by force. Those recommendations included fixing the $19 billion Taiwan arms sale backlog, establishing the Taiwan reserves stockpile, implementing multiyear munitions procurement, passing cybersecurity legislation for Taiwan and more.
Gallagher sat down with Defense News to discuss the status of those recommendations, the United States’ beleaguered munitions-industrial base, Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea, his plans for the committee to visit Taiwan and whether he would also visit China.
This Oct. 26 interview was edited for length and clarity.
The cybersecurity bill recommended by the China-focused committee is part of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which is still under debate. But where do the other recommendations stand within the House? What more needs to be done?
I think the latest count was at seven of the 10 in our attempt for Taiwan to have some form of representation in the NDAA. Obviously, the NDAA is not yet done. I’m a conferee. My hope is that we can keep it seven of 10 in the NDAA, or at least make meaningful progress therein. There are some things, like multiyear procurement and appropriations, that need to be adjudicated via defense appropriations.
The supplemental is also an opportunity to advance in the direction of some of our recommendations. Of the $106 billion, there’s really only $2 billion geared toward Taiwan. That’s woefully insufficient. I mean, honestly, that’s kind of a joke. And it’s not even Taiwan-specific — I assume because there were elements of the administration that didn’t want to anger China by specifically saying $2 billion in foreign military financing was for Taiwan.
We still have until the end of the year to finalize our other policy recommendations and other areas beyond military competition.
The president used his drawdown authority within the past year and a half, mostly for Ukraine, but also for Taiwan and Israel. The types of munitions sent by the U.S. differ, but there is overlap. For instance, the government sent Ukraine Harpoon missiles, which then need replaced in U.S. stocks. The U.S. industrial base has a lot of production constraints, so at what point can U.S. military stockpiles no longer sustain this level of drawdown, and which region should get priority?
The Indo-Pacific is our priority theater. I don’t mean to suggest it’s an either-or choice because we need to continue to provide lethal assistance to Ukraine to help them beat the Russians. Israel’s a priority as well. But the Indo-Pacific has to remain our top priority because a collapse of deterrence in the region would have the potential to make the ongoing war in Ukraine and the emerging war in Gaza look tame in comparison.
One solution, which I unsuccessfully tried to push, but I’m hoping to revive, that would rebuild our entire arsenal of deterrence is to maximize production rates of all the critical munitions and long-range precision fires. My list probably looks similar to the list the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, Bill LaPlante, would come up with in the Pentagon. The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile would be at the top of my list, and the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, the Joint Direct Attack Munition Extended Range, the Standard Missile-6, the Naval Strike Missile, etc.
You could agree on the most critical munitions that you need to stockpile, and then you need maximum production rates and to provide certainty over the course of the Future Years Defense Program.
We have an opportunity right now to make a generational investment in our ossified and broken munitions-industrial base. We’re not there yet, notwithstanding the brittleness of that base that Ukraine has revealed.
Some Republican defense hawks asked you to run for speaker of the House after Rep. Kevin McCarthy was forced out of the role, but you turned them down. Why?
I think my highest and best use to not just the Republican caucus, but the country, is as chair of the Select Committee on the CCP and working on issues related to the U.S.-China competition — on the hard power component specifically. The mission I’ve given myself in Congress is to deter a war with China and to prevent World War III. That’s the most pressing national security challenge. I want to give that everything I got, and the speakership is something I’ve never considered. My focus is on winning this new Cold War with communist China.
On Oct. 22, Chinese ships collided with a Philippine military supply vessel in the South China Sea. You’ve called for additional measures to support the U.S.-Philippine defense treaty, which would include establishing a more secure and permanent foothold in the contested Second Thomas Shoal. What does that look like? What should President Joe Biden do?
We’ve talked about the supplemental before. There’s some thinking that of the $2 billion in foreign military financing, half a billion could be used for the Philippines.
At a broader level, we need to ensure the Marine Corps’ vision of having small teams of Marines running around southern Japanese and northern Philippine islands with autonomous Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, armed with Naval Strike Missiles. That would create serious dilemmas for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army planners.
If you think about our stand-in forces, our biggest asymmetric advantage is our submarines. By adding that, things can get really exciting. That’s something we could accomplish within the next five years before the 2027 timeline emerges [the year President Xi Jinping hopes the People’s Liberation Army will be ready for a possible Taiwan attack].
What basing and access agreements would that require? I don’t know, and I give the administration credit for some of the basing and access agreements they’ve gotten with the Philippines and with Japan in recent years. It did seem like under the previous administration, the Philippines was sliding out of our orbit or the alliance was weakening, and they were trending more toward the Chinese Communist Party. Now, that seems to have changed and things are headed in a much better direction. But it’s important that we maintain our presence there and that our funding is consistent.
I do like that we’re saying an attack on Philippine forces in the Second Thomas Shoal would trigger our mutual defense commitments. It’s important that we signal that, but we’ve got to be prepared to back that up.
As the Biden administration expands basing agreements and security cooperation with Pacific allies, China’s talking point is that this is a Cold War mentality. You’ve framed U.S. relations with China as a new Cold War. Does this framing make diplomacy and de-escalation more difficult?
I don’t think so. To clarify, my view is that China and Russia have been waging a Cold War against us for quite some time. It at least started in 2012 when having unsuccessfully tried to make specious legal claims for disputed territory related to the Philippines, China began its aggressive and unprecedented island-building campaign and the militarization of that campaign. We can either recognize that fact and wage a counter-effort aggressively, or we can lose this thing because of our lack of urgency and ignorance. This is not to say the new Cold War is identical to the old; I find the analogy useful both for the similarities and the differences it illuminates.
This is a whole-of-society effort. It’s going to require us to modernize our national security bureaucracy. This isn’t just two militaries competing, but two separate ideologies and two separate ways of organizing governance. It’s as much of an ideological competition as it is a military-economic competition.
The economic side of it is where I think the differences really emerge. We never had to contemplate some form of selective economic decoupling from the Soviet Union because our economies didn’t interact.
That’s what makes it more complex and in some ways more difficult than the old Cold War. We’ve woken up to the fact that we are unacceptably dependent on China for the production of certain things: critical goods — certainly the pandemic was a wake-up call in that respect, advanced pharmaceutical ingredients, critical mineral processing, subcomponent parts for solar panels, electric vehicle batteries. [The U.S. needs to] figure out how to wean ourselves off that dependency, restore some level of economic sovereignty, or at a minimum stop fueling our own destruction by allowing the outflow of U.S. capital to China in certain advanced technological and military sectors.
What about the flurry of diplomacy in recent months?
I’ve been critical of what I call “zombie engagement” by the Biden administration. The problem isn’t engaging in diplomacy per se; it is pausing defensive action to just sit down at the table and talk with high-level Chinese Communist Party officials. These talks seem to go on and on and on, or we commit to working groups and then nothing happens. Thus far, we’ve had multiple Cabinet-level officials go to Beijing with really nothing to show for it.
There are still some in the administration who believe we have to pull our punches with respect to China because we don’t want to anger them and thereby jeopardize their willingness to work with us on reducing climate emissions. That’s a naive view of the world. I don’t think Xi Jinping cares about commitments made at [the climate change conferences]. I want to make sure that when we are engaging in diplomacy, it’s backed by a credible military deterrence.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., recently led a bipartisan congressional delegation to China. It sounds like you aren’t inclined to do that.
I’m genuinely interested in talking to the senators that went on that trip to hear how it went. I’d be curious if they thought it was productive or if it was just kind of sitting in nondescript, gray rooms getting a lecture by wolf warrior diplomats. So I’m not hostile to the idea; I would want it to actually be meaningful and productive.
There are some other trips to the Indo-Pacific we have prioritized that we’re trying to do. But the congressional schedule keeps changing because we depose speakers and then argue about it for weeks.
Before McCarthy was ousted as speaker, he had backed off his initial pledge to emulate former Speaker Nancy Pelosi by visiting Taiwan. But he did meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in the U.S. After Pelosi’s visit, China ratcheted up drills around Taiwan and suspended cooperation on countering fentanyl trafficking. Did McCarthy make the right choice by meeting Tsai in the U.S. instead of in Taiwan?
I defended Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. It’s entirely in keeping with precedent and is the intent of the Taiwan Relations Act. I understand the CCP threw a fit about it, but they also threw a fit at the idea of President Tsai meeting with Speaker McCarthy and members of the committee on American soil. So no matter what we do, they’ll claim it’s a provocation, and so we can’t be intimidated by that rhetoric. I thought former Speaker McCarthy handled the whole situation brilliantly.
For our committee, that trip out to California to meet with President Tsai at the Reagan Library in a bipartisan fashion was incredibly powerful. Speaker McCarthy set a very bipartisan tone. The interaction with President Tsai was very robust, meaningful and a very good outcome.
Separately, I went to Taiwan myself. We’re hoping to take the committee to Taiwan, and I think that will be a very useful thing to do.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.