Amid Concerns About China, US Lawmakers Approve Bills to Tighten Foreign Investment Oversight

May 23, 2018 Updated: May 23, 2018

WASHINGTON—Committees in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives voted on May 22 to approve bills aimed at tightening oversight of foreign investment to slow China’s acquisition of sensitive U.S. technology.

The Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee approved laws that would strengthen the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews potential foreign investment to ensure it does not compromise national security.

The two chambers began the process in November with identical bills to expand the clout of the inter-agency body.

Congress is considering the bills to address Defense Department concerns that U.S. soldiers could someday face on a battlefield U.S. technology like robotics or drones that was acquired by foreign adversaries.

One bill establishes an interagency process for identifying key technologies and intellectual property that have not yet been subject to export control, according to a report by The Hill. The legislation will also create a process led by the Commerce Department to determine what sensitive material could end up in foreign hands.

The Senate committee approved removing a section of the bill requiring CFIUS to review joint venture proposals that could lead to technology transfer, a process that would delay transactions. The approved bill also defines passive investments, which CFIUS normally considers approvable.

The House Financial Services Committee unanimously passed its version later on May 22, according to a statement by its sponsor, Republican Representative Robert Pittenger.

Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and lead sponsor of the legislation, told reporters it would be “ideal” to attach CFIUS to the defense authorization bill or some other “must-pass” legislation.

“What we need to do is elevate everybody’s understanding of what China’s strategic long-term goals are, and they are to dominate the United States economically and militarily,” said Cornyn. “They’ve got a very clear strategy for doing that, and we need to wake up to that and make sure we’re responding in kind.”

The Senate Banking Committee voted to tack onto the bill a measure that would make it more difficult for the president to modify penalties on Chinese telecommunications companies such as ZTE.

U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern that President Donald Trump would ease tough penalties on ZTE, saying the United States should not bow to pressure from Beijing to help the smartphone maker.

By Diane Bartz. Epoch Times staff member Annie Wu contributed to this report.