House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee leaders said on Thursday they will hold a series of hearings in coming months looking at what they see as serious threats from China, continuing strong calls in Congress for tough dealings with Beijing.

“China has only become emboldened and now may be the pre-eminent threat to American security, our economy and our values,” U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, the committee’s Republican chairman, said at a hearing focused on China’s military expansion.

He said the committee would also look at issues including China’s efforts “both legal and illicit” to acquire national security technology and U.S. intellectual property, its “influence campaign” and its technology strategy.

The public hearing – unusual for a committee that conducts most of its business behind closed doors – took place the same day as Washington and Beijing were launching a second round of talks to try to avert a trade war.

Representative Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat, said he hoped the panel would hold more public hearings related to China, particularly focusing on cyber security threats.

Ahead of those talks, members of Congress, including President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, have been pushing back on suggestions that Trump might ease a clampdown on one major Chinese company, telecommunications equipment maker ZTE Corp, in exchange for eased agricultural tariffs.

Separately on Thursday, Republicans and Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee unanimously backed an amendment that would bar Trump’s Department of Commerce from renegotiating sanctions on ZTE, a rebuke to Trump.

The measure will be included in a Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill due to be considered by the full House of Representatives later this month.

At the hearing, Schiff said, “We need to consider that the military challenge is part of a larger national strategy by China to project its power and to secure its national interests by whatever means necessary.”

He said that included sales of “potentially compromising” telecommunications equipment in the United States by ZTE and Huawei, another major Chinese company.

U.S. intelligence agencies have warned that ZTE’s products pose a threat to U.S. cyber security, alleging that they could be used to spy on Americans or steal intellectual property.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

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