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It’s Time to End China’s Access to America’s Advanced Technologies

Feb. 24, 2023
Congress should act to restrict any products that could aid the Chinese military.

OPINION

The United States is facing a Winston Churchill moment when it comes to China. Beijing’s recent balloon flight over the continental United States has put Washington on edge. Lawmakers agree that a response is justified, and the immediate answer should be to deny Beijing further access to critical U.S. technologies. However, China has brazenly demonstrated its expanding surveillance capabilities. That means Washington must also contemplate some sobering, long-term considerations.

In response to the balloon, the Biden administration has already identified six Chinese entities tied to Beijing’s aerospace and military activities. These companies have been added to an export blacklist—and will now be denied access to key American technologies and hardware.

This is an obvious first step. But Churchillian leadership requires a recognition of the larger threat. When Churchill warned of the Soviet Union’s rising influence in his 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech, he compared it to the complacency in Europe before World War II. The same holds today. The only means to avoid future war is to start containing Beijing’s wider ambitions.

Limiting Beijing’s capabilities will be tricky, however. China’s state-owned manufacturers are often interconnected through a shadowy network of funding from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Targeting six Chinese aerospace companies only scratches the surface.

What’s really at issue is Beijing’s ongoing surveillance and hacking of America’s high-tech industries. It’s all part of a disturbing shell game. Even when the U.S. government shuts down a handful of key Chinese companies, other entities in mainland China still seek to procure U.S. assets. 

That’s why, in the aftermath of the spy balloon, the parent companies that own and operate the six blacklisted Chinese entities should also be identified. 

There are still plenty of other companies tied to China’s military industrial base, though. Congress and the president must consider thorough sanctions on the CCP as well as Chinese companies. The goal would be to ensure that no advanced U.S. technologies—particularly in the aerospace industry—are sold to any Chinese firms. 

This has already become a difficult task, since there are a number of advanced technologies that offer both commercial and military uses. The criteria now should be to restrict any products that could potentially aid the Chinese military. High on the list would be avionics systems for aircraft, including high-value microchips. But it should also include the building blocks for aircraft, missiles, drones and satellites as well as maritime vessels and ground vehicles.

The Department of Defense can start right now—and use the full weight of the Pentagon’s resources to assemble a comprehensive list. After such an inventory of U.S. products and technologies has been identified, America’s allies should be brought into the effort. It’s vital that they not sell similar hardware to China. 

All of this should be common sense. In fact, Congress took similar action in 2018 when it passed Section 889 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That legislation  ensured federal contractors wouldn’t purchase telecom equipment from China. Congress should now pursue a similar effort in this year’s NDAA—and make sure that no U.S. firms can sell high-tech equipment to Chinese companies.

In 2021, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the National Critical Capabilities Defense Act. Their bill sought to establish a screening process for outbound U.S. investment—to help ensure that the United States doesn’t offshore critical manufacturing capabilities to foreign adversaries, including China and Russia. This is the template for what’s needed now. 

The recent overflight of China’s spy balloon is deeply troubling. The blatant nature of the intrusion demonstrates Beijing’s growing military and espionage prowess. There’s simply no reason to further enable these technological capabilities in a growing adversary.

When Winston Churchill warned of the Soviet threat, he reminded Americans that World War II could have been prevented “without the firing of a single shot.” That would have required recognizing and challenging Germany’s belligerence before Hitler’s army gained the tools of war.

The same holds with China. To blunt the growth of an aggressive rival, U.S. companies must not provide advanced technologies to Beijing. Congress should act now, and halt any further transfers of America’s high-tech assets to the CCP.

William J. Jones is the retired chairman of Cummins American Corp., a privately held holding company that includes subsidiary operating companies involved in U.S.-based manufacturing, finance, and banking.   

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