WASHINGTON — Lawmakers made the case for arming Taiwan when the House select committee on China convened its first hearing on Tuesday.

Committee Chairman Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and ranking member Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., both featured Taiwan prominently in their opening questions to the four witnesses that included two national security advisers to former President Donald Trump: H.R. McMaster and Matthew Pottinger.

McMaster noted the $19 billion backlog in State Department-approved arms sales for Taiwan and said “hard power matters and what matters much more than pledges of more defense sales, for example, are real capabilities on the ground and integrated, in this case, with the Taiwanese armed forces.”

“What’s really important is the need for us to recognize that we need to build our defense capabilities,” McMaster added.

Gallagher, who has likened U.S.-China competition to “a new Cold War,” has vowed to “arm Taiwan to the teeth” to deter a Chinese invasion. Beijing views Taiwan — one of the world’s leading supplier of semiconductors — as a breakaway province and has vowed to retake by force if necessary. The Wisconsin Republican aims to use the committee to explain what Congress considers to be some of the biggest threats from China to the American public.

Defense News first reported on the Taiwan arms sale backlog last year, which is in large part due to supply chain issues and constrained production capabilities. However, bureaucratic hold-ups within the U.S. foreign military sales process can also play a role in backlogs.

For his part, Khrisnamoorthi referenced a recent war game from the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank that found China would fail to retake Taiwan if they tried to do so today because of capability gaps. (That same war game also found the U.S. defense industrial base is not prepared for a battle over Taiwan as it would run out of long-range, precision guided munitions in less than one week.)

“The People’s Liberation Army has been receiving massive amounts of investment that increased by double digits in many years precisely to try to fill gaps that they would need to fill in order to successfully invade Taiwan,” said Pottinger. “It includes things like amphibious lift: more ships that can carry tanks and equipment. It includes more missiles to add to the already thousands of missiles that are pointed at Taiwan.”

Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., made it a point to note that a Chinese frigate design closely resembled Austal USA’s littoral combat ship, which is best by numerous problems. (Dunn’s district includes the Panama City-based Eastern Shipbuilding, which recently lost a Coast Guard cutter contract to Austal’s shipyard in Alabama.)

“There are a lot of weapons systems that the People’s Liberation Army has designed and fielded that look a lot like our designs and our capabilities,” McMaster said as a general response, noting that he was unfamiliar with the specific littoral combat ship situation. “And that is because we have been lax in the area of counter-espionage and in enterprise hardening.”

The wide-ranging hearing featured 13 Republican and 11 Democratic lawmakers also weighing in on everything from Chinese human rights abuses to the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs to banning TikTok.

Lawmakers and the witnesses leaned into the multimedia format of the hearing with videos depicting China’s human rights abuses, Chinese Communist Party ideology and graphics depicting the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and growing trade deficits with Beijing.

Two protesters from the anti-war group Code Pink interrupted McMaster’s opening remarks, calling for “collaboration not competition” and accusing the committee of “saber rattling” before Capitol police officers removed them.

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.

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