Now that the Republican party has taken control of the House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (below left with well-known visitor) has become chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She is no friend of Beijing’s. An emigrant from Fidel Castro’s Cuba who now represents Miami, the centre of exiled Cubans in the U.S., she is a believer that Congress needs to confront Communist and authoritarian states. As such, she is a supporter of Taiwan and a proponent of human rights in Tibet and of taking a hard line towards North Korea.
She is expected to be vocal in pushing the administration to take a more confrontational approach to China, including over trade and currency issues. She has appointed Chris Smith, a long-standing critic of China’s one-child policy and what he says are restrictions on religious freedom in the country, to lead the sub-committee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights. Similar hardliners are to lead the sub-committees covering Terrorism and International Sanctions, which are both likely to impinge on a range of China’s allies such as North Korea, Iran, Burma, Cuba and Libya. Donald Manzullo, a congressman from Illinois with long connections to manufacturing and small business in the MidWest and concerns about corporate outsourcing, will chair the Asia and the Pacific subcommittee.
The Democratic-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee will act as a barrier to its House counterpart turning its rhetoric into action, but in a year in which Sino-American relations are likely to be rocky anyway, the change of chairmanship of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs will give voice to a more abrasive and populist tone to at least one aspect of the relationship. President Hu Jintao’s trip to Washington later this month will provide Ros-Lehtinen with an early platform she may find too tempting to resist.