A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a proposal to secure U.S. airports from national security threats posed by airport equipment such as passenger boarding bridges made by foreign adversaries, specifically China.
The bill, named the Airport Infrastructure Resources (AIR) Security Act, would prevent federal airport improvement funds from being used to purchase infrastructure made in countries determined to be a threat to U.S. national security.
The lawmakers expressed concern that state-sponsored companies in those countries could steal U.S. intellectual property.
“Make no mistake, the CCP will stop at nothing to gain power and control. We cannot afford to give them inroads to our most critical systems,” said Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), who introduced the measure alongside Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), in a statement.
Wright said the bill would “ensure taxpayer dollars do not go to Chinese-owned or subsidized passenger boarding bridge companies that are hoping to steal from and spy on the American people.”
The legislation is co-sponsored by Reps. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), Ross Spano (R-Fla.), Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), and Lance Gooden (R-Texas).
A similar bill (S.1710) was introduced in the Senate in June last year by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
“Aviation infrastructure is critical to national security—and for that reason, China’s Communist Party proxy companies are targeting our commercial airports,” said Waltz in the press release.
In December 2019, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Rep. Díaz-Balart sent a letter to Lester Sola, aviation director and CEO of Miami International Airport, expressing concern that the airport was contemplating awarding contracts for passenger boarding bridges to CIMC-Tianda, the airport facilities arm of China’s state-run China International Marine Containers (CIMC) Group.
The lawmakers noted that CIMC-Tianda was found guilty of industrial espionage in 1998 by a U.S. federal court in Houston.
The House lawmakers also named CIMC-Tianda as a potential threat, noting that it has repeatedly tried to partner with major U.S. transportation hubs, including Houston, Dallas, Miami, and Boston, in an effort to sell its passenger boarding bridges.
“For intellectual property protection and safety, we should prevent the Federal Aviation Administration from entering into contracts with companies with direct affiliation with our adversaries,” Waltz said.
China has sought to invest in other critical infrastructure in the United States. For example, Chinese communications giant Huawei had been vying to build next-generation wireless 5G networks, before the company was banned by the U.S. government because of national security concerns.
One Chinese company has already successfully pushed into the U.S. market. China’s state-owned rail car manufacturer CRRC won contracts in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, before U.S. lawmakers raised concerns about the deals and introduced bills aimed at preventing federal money from being granted to Chinese companies.
Gooden warned in the lawmakers’ statement that though Chinese companies “may offer many goods and services at lower prices … we’re choosing not to buy what they’re selling. We cannot continue to fuel the ambitions of the untrustworthy and unreliable CCP regime.”
CIMC Group, a Shenzhen-based manufacturer of logistics and energy equipment, is heavily involved in Beijing’s national policies, in particular, China’s foreign policy of “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI, also known as One Belt, One Road).
Beijing rolled out BRI in 2013 with the objective of increasing geopolitical influence by building up trade routes linking China, Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.
In December 2017, CIMC signed an agreement with Shenzhen Gas Corporation on investment opportunities and construction projects in foreign countries that had signed up to BRI.
CIMC Logistics, a CIMC subsidiary, assisted the municipal government of Chinese port city Qingdao in drafting the city’s 2017 bluebook on how to become a regional hub for BRI.
CIMC Logistics is also among the Chinese companies that have participated in China’s state-controlled National Transportation Logistics Platform (LOGINK), a logistics information-sharing network constructed and implemented by a number of Chinese government ministries, including transport, commerce, and public security.
U.S.-based independent consultancy Horizon Advisory, in its report published in April, identified LOGINK as a means by which Beijing can gain access to large amounts of data used in transporting goods, as part of its ambition to become a tech superpower.
Outside of China, CIMC said that it was earning close to $300 million annually in emerging markets through its subsidiary CIMC Vehicles alone, according to a June 2017 article by Chinese newspaper Shenzhen Special Zone Daily. The subsidiary manufactures semi trailers and truck bodies.
The article pointed out that CIMC Vehicles has invested in countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Bahrain, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.
In June 2016, CIMC bought Northern Ireland-based trailer maker Retlan Manufacturing for 91.7 million British pounds (about $112 million), according to Chinese media Shanghai Securities News.