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Chinese officials monitor House panel hearing on U.S. economic competition with China

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We've heard a lot about the United States shifting its approach to China. So how does that look from China?

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The divide between the world's two largest economies was on display last night. A special committee in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on the threat of China. The committee was created to showcase exactly that message.

INSKEEP: About 7,000 miles away, Chinese officials were listening, and so was NPR's John Ruwitch, who's covered China for many years.

Hey there, John.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So I'm imagining not a lot of people in China had access to this congressional hearing very early in the morning, China time. But how closely have people been following the decline in relations with the United States over years?

RUWITCH: Yeah. That's a safe bet. This issue has not gotten a ton of coverage, but of course, China-U.S. relations get a lot of coverage in state media. It's a bit a topic of discussion. Beijing, the state, of course, claims that Washington is to blame for it all. You know, as everywhere, there's a wide range of views, right? I've heard people quietly critical of their own government here for the foreign policy they've adopted. I've certainly had conversations with people who are convinced that the U.S. is out to thwart China.

You know, then comes this hearing - right? - which showcases this popular view in the U.S. that Americans got China wrong over the decades, thinking it would become more liberal as its economy became more integrated with the world, that Beijing took advantage of that and wants to overturn the world order as we know it. And so now it's time to change our approach. Here's Mike Gallagher, the Republican from Wisconsin who chairs the committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE GALLAGHER: We must act with a sense of urgency. I believe our policy over the next 10 years will set the stage for the next hundred.

RUWITCH: You know, there were two protesters who disrupted the hearing, holding up signs that said China is not our enemy. That got coverage here, actually. The Global Times, which is a hawkish news outlet, covered that.

INSKEEP: Oh, very interesting. Well, we heard the chairman of that committee, as well as the top Democrat on the committee, on NPR yesterday. So they have made their bipartisan case. How does the Chinese government respond?

RUWITCH: The foreign ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning, addressed this in her daily briefing today. She said that the U.S. people and government agencies need to, quote, "abandon their ideological bias" and Cold War zero-sum thinking when it comes to China, to stop thinking of China as a threat, to stop slandering the Communist Party of China. You know, she also blasted the U.S. on another issue that's popped up yet again.

There are reports this week that the Department of Energy believes, albeit with low confidence, that the COVID pandemic was likely caused by a lab leak here in China. And then FBI director Christopher Wray repeated his belief that that's the case. Mao Ning said that the U.S. was just stirring the whole thing - all these things up for political reasons and that doing so would lower America's credibility. And she urged Americans to respect science and the facts, which is something that critics could argue China has at times fallen short on with the virus, too.

INSKEEP: I'm interested that the foreign ministry spokesperson said stop slandering the Chinese Communist Party since the U.S. officials we've talked with have emphasized they are criticizing not China broadly, but the party that rules it. Among other things, aren't U.S. officials concerned about China's Communist Party, as they would put it, allying with Russia?

RUWITCH: Yeah. They are. And in fact, the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, is in Beijing this week. He's a close ally of Vladimir Putin. You know, China also has very close relations with Belarus that have increased and gotten deeper over the years and appear to be deepening with this meeting. Lukashenko reportedly meet - met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and will meet Xi Jinping. You know, China says - you know, there's been these accusations that China is considering furnishing deadly weapons to Russia, right? China calls those smears against it. China says it stands for peace, and it last week put out this set of principles for resolving the war in Ukraine. But this visit by Lukashenko and a visit by China a couple weeks ago by Iran's president have raised some eyebrows.

INSKEEP: NPR's John Ruwitch. Thanks for your insights.

RUWITCH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.