US Democratic ‘China hawk’ legislator declares election victory after a tight race

Owen Churchill
·4-min read

One of the most vocal China hawks among Democrats in the US House of Representatives appears to have held onto his seat, as mail-in ballots have helped Representative Tom Suozzi of New York overtake his Republican challenger.

While the outcome of the race in Long Island has yet to be officially certified, Suozzi said in a statement on Tuesday that the Republican, George Santos, had called him to concede.

“Our nation faces tremendous challenges and the division is distracting us from accomplishing our goals,” Suozzi said. The overwhelming majority of congressional Republicans continue to either support or stay silent on US President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the presidential election was “rigged” against him, and his administration continues to deny President-elect Joe Biden funds and access for his transition staff.

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Suozzi overcame an Election Day deficit of roughly 4,200 votes when absentee ballots processed in the following days skewed overwhelmingly in his favour. As of Monday, Suozzi led Santos by 13,000 votes, 52 per cent to 48 per cent, with the mail-in votes running nearly four to one in his favour, he told reporters.

The concession by Santos, a financial industry executive, came just two days after he attended orientation for freshmen lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

As Santos’ lead diminished, his confidence in victory gave way to allegations of voting irregularities, and he called the ballot-counting process a “real threat to our democracy”.

Suozzi’s re-election marks the latest victory for the House’s incumbent China hawks. Also returned to their seats are Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, and Brad Sherman and Jacky Speier, both of California; and Republicans including Christopher Smith of New Jersey, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri and Michael McCaul of Texas.

Such wins further cement the certainty that the 2021-22 Congress will continue the maximum-pressure campaign against Beijing that has unified an otherwise bitterly divided legislature.

US officials targeted by Beijing shrug off sanctions and vow to keep pressing on human rights

“We’re going to see lots of China legislation that hasn’t had time to be voted on in this Congress reintroduced very early in the next Congress,” said Anna Ashton, senior director of governmental affairs at the US-China Business Council.

“I could see a scenario where without the hawks, things got a little quieter,” she said.

Yet even without the high-profile hawks who consistently use their platforms to lambast Beijing, the bipartisan consensus around challenging China was so strong that that the issue would likely remain a congressional mainstay regardless, Ashton added.

Asked how prominently action on China would feature among his priorities, Suozzi said in a statement: “Forced labour, authoritarian crackdowns on calls for democracies, religious persecution, and complete cultural erasure of ethnic groups occur every single day in China.

“These are clear human rights violations and I will continue my work in Congress as an advocate against these atrocities.”

Suozzi was an original sponsor of a bill that would ban all imports from China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region over forced labour concerns; it breezed through the House in a near-unanimous vote in September and awaits a vote in the Senate.

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Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike have pushed for a stronger US response to Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses amid criticism that the Trump administration has sidelined such topics from its primary agenda of China issues.

“The United States government and the people of our country understand the need to be tough on China,” Suozzi said. “Under a new Biden administration, I have hope that understanding will turn into concrete action.”

Since 2019, Suozzi has served on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), an influential panel that advises lawmakers and the administration on human rights in the country.

For its work, the CECC was targeted by Beijing with unspecified sanctions in July, a move that Suozzi said at the time only reinforced the panel’s “steadfastness” in challenging the Chinese government on matters including the crackdown against Uygurs in Xinjiang, its policies in Tibet and its response to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Foreign policy tends not to motivate US voting behaviour. Even so, the victories of Suozzi and other China hawks come as the US public forms an increasingly negative view of the country, buttressed by the continued Covid-19 threat.

Disregarding the conspiracy theories surrounding the pandemic, Ashton said the fact remains that the coronavirus “did originate in China, and it is very explicitly and directly tied to very tangible economic malaise right now.

“I think that has made China loom large in the American popular consciousness.”

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