Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has led a group of 10 Republican senators in calling on the Biden administration to act more quickly to finalize a list of “emerging and foundational technologies” that are key to national security and should be subject to stricter export controls as a guardrail against their acquisition and misuse by China for military and intelligence purposes.
In a June 15 letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo (pdf), the senators urged the department to “expeditiously” identify the essential technologies, as mandated years ago by the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA) (pdf).
“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is executing a strategy of ‘Military-Civil Fusion’ (MCF), in which notionally ‘private’ Chinese companies acquire cutting-edge technology overseas in part to help the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) develop and field advanced military capabilities,” the senators wrote, noting that, in practice, the strategy “transforms the technology sector of the Chinese economy into a military-driven ecosystem, centrally coordinated by the CCP.”
“We remain concerned that U.S. businesses export sensitive technologies to ostensibly civilian Chinese firms or accept investment from them only for these Chinese firms to promptly hand over this technology to the Chinese military or intelligence services.”
While the Commerce Department has taken steps to solicit expert advice and public comment on the “emerging and foundational technologies” list, issuing an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in November 2018, the senators argued that “these efforts have only resulted in a limited set of controlled emerging technologies and omit many of the 45 potential emerging technologies” that the Commerce Department listed in the notice.
Some of the technologies identified in the proposed rulemaking notice include artificial intelligence, advanced surveillance, and micro-robotic systems, along with a variety of brain-computer systems like mind-machine interfaces.
“So long as these lists remain incomplete and underutilized, the federal government will lack a properly functioning export control system and foreign investment screening process,” the letter reads, noting that this would leave the United States “unacceptably vulnerable to China’s economic predation.”
A U.S. congressional advisory report from this month stated that the Commerce Department was failing to do its part to protect national security and keep sensitive technology out of the hands of China’s military.
The U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission report said the Commerce Department had been slow to create a list of sensitive technology that should be scrutinized before export to China.
The Commerce Department said on June 15 in response that because “innovation is not static and technology triggering national security concerns can evolve over time, the goal to identify these technologies will be a continuous effort and will not be an objective that is ‘finished’ or ‘complete.'”
The department noted that it has issued four rules on controls on emerging technologies and more are pending. It has already expanded the military end-user rule and added companies to its entity list restricting U.S. suppliers from selling to companies like Huawei Technologies and Hangzhou Hikvision.
The ECRA, which was signed into law in August 2018, directs the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security to carry out an interagency review process to identify “emerging and foundational technologies,” which would be added to the Commerce Control List and controlled under the Export Administration Regulations. Also, any so-identified technologies would be considered “critical technologies” under the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, potentially requiring any foreign investments in U.S. businesses that engage in activities involving those technologies to be subject to a mandatory notification to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
Reuters contributed to this report.