In a significant development, a group of U.S. Senators urged Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to direct her department to move faster and identify American technologies, including emerging ones, that could be misused by China, if it is exported to that country.
The group, led by Republican Senator Tom Cotton urged the department to identify “emerging and foundational technologies” as required under a 2018 law.
“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,” reads a letter that was also signed by Todd Young, Marco Rubio, John Cornyn, Rick Scott and Ben Sasse.
The letter states that so far the Commerce Department has produced only “a limited set of controlled emerging technologies …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 goes on to mention that the current position “leaves the United States unacceptably vulnerable to China’s economic predation.”
Earlier this month, a U.S. congressional advisory report said, the Commerce Department was failing to do its duty to protect national security and keep sensitive technology out of the hands of Chinese military.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report said Commerce had been slow to create a list of sensitive technology that should be scrutinized before export to China.
On Tuesday, the Commerce Department said, since “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'”.
It also noted that it has so far issued four rules on controls on emerging technologies with many more in the pipeline.
In November 2018, Commerce Department had published 45 examples of emerging technologies, including face and voice recognition; the list has yet to be finalized.
Commerce has yet to propose a list of -called “foundational” technologies as required by law in 2018, when the U.S. Congress tightened export control policies and the process for screening foreign investments. At that time, Chinese entities were actively soliciting dual use U.S. technologies for the Chinese military.
The 2018 law directed Commerce Department to work with other agencies to identify emerging, or cutting edge technologies including chip making.