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Republicans called for a tough stance on China. Are they happy with new tariffs?


We follow up on the latest U.S. move to wall off key parts of the economy from China. President Biden affirmed tariffs on Chinese goods first imposed by President Trump and his administration is now adding new tariffs, including on Chinese electric cars. China has vowed to respond. And that's where we begin our discussion with Republican Congressman John Moolenaar of Michigan. He is the new chairman of a House committee that focuses on China. Mr. Chairman, welcome to the program.

JOHN MOOLENAAR: Hey, thank you, Steve. Good to be with you this morning.

INSKEEP: Is this the right move by the administration?

MOOLENAAR: I believe it is. We need to make sure we have a level playing field in our trading relationship with China. And they have been abusing the relationship, and it's important that we put things on a fair competition to make sure that our auto industry and other industries are not adversely affected by them cheating on the trading relationship.

INSKEEP: I'll just note you mentioned the auto industry. We'll remind people you represent Michigan, center of the U.S. auto industry, historically, now a 100% tariff on Chinese electric vehicles, which I think would have had a hard time reaching the U.S. market anyway. Why is that a good idea?

MOOLENAAR: Well, it's important that when you consider the subsidies that the Chinese Communist Party has as a policy when it comes to industries like the auto industry. A electric vehicle manufactured in China by BYD costs about $10,000 when you consider that the least expensive electric vehicle in the United States is 30,000 because they don't receive those kinds of subsidies. That's an unfair advantage for China, and we're simply trying to level the playing field.

INSKEEP: Let me play you a bit of tape here. This is U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, representing the Biden administration, of course. She was on the program yesterday and said this.


KATHERINE TAI: The electric vehicles that are being produced by China are incredibly price competitive to the point where producers in markets like ours are going to really be crushed by what has been produced by these anti-competitive practices in Beijing.

INSKEEP: OK. She says it's unfair, as you have said, but I was thinking about that phrase incredibly price-competitive. There are some consumers who see the flip side here and have asked our autos correspondent, why can't we get cheap Chinese electric cars, which Detroit doesn't seem to be making much in the way of cheap electric cars? How would you answer them?

MOOLENAAR: Well, I would just say that, you know, China has a strategy of investing in different industries and chasing American industries out of the arena, and we cannot afford as a country in these vital industries to be simply undercut in an unfair way. We've treated China as an equal, as a fair trading partner. They have not reciprocated. If they would go back to that kind of a relationship, I think you'd see a lot more fairness and a lot better relationships. But unfortunately, they've abused the relationship, and that's why we're taking these actions.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note that the United States has subsidized EVs with tax credits and various other things. But is there a way Congress could lean on Detroit or Tesla to get a little better at producing cheap electric cars?

MOOLENAAR: Well, I think the most important thing we could do is promote regulatory policies that would not disadvantage American automakers. When you consider the tailpipe emission standards that the Biden administration has promoted, that puts American manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage. It lessens our ability to innovate, and it simply plays on China's home field. And so there are a number of...

INSKEEP: Although, not that relevant with EVs, I suppose, tailpipe emissions.

MOOLENAAR: Well, that's what's forcing people to buy vehicles that they don't want to buy because two-thirds of the vehicles need to be EVs by 2034. And so when you consider that opens that window for China to move in with their heavily subsidized vehicles and put our automakers out of business.

INSKEEP: Congressman, I want to ask about a big-picture idea of the U.S. relationship with China. Your predecessor as the head of this important China committee, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, signed onto an article that all but called for the United States to push for regime change in China. Not competition, which is where we seem to be now, or great power rivalry, but favoring a change in government, if possible, in certain ways. Would you support that approach to China?

MOOLENAAR: I have not called for regime change. What I do think is important is that we point out and bring clarity to the actual governing policies of the Chinese Communist Party. For instance, you know, President Xi Jinping was talking with President Biden in November about reducing fentanyl and helping in this process. At the same time, their official tax policy was to subsidize and give tax rebates to chemical companies making the precursors of those fentanyl products, exporting them to Mexico and coming across our Southern border, killing 100,000 Americans every year. So, When you see the disconnect between the public diplomacy of the Chinese leadership and the actual reality of a communist dictatorship, we need to bring light to that so that the American people can understand what we're facing here.

INSKEEP: In about 10 seconds, are you asserting, then, they are not helping when it comes to fentanyl, even now?

MOOLENAAR: I - not only are they not helping, they are actively exacerbating the problem.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much. It's a pleasure talking with you. Really appreciate your time.

MOOLENAAR: Thank you.

INSKEEP: John Moolenaar is a Republican Congressman from Michigan and the new chairman of a House committee that focuses on China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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