Senators want the feds to identify tech to keep away from China

Republicans claim Commerce Department isn’t doing enough to prevent emerging tech from being pirated

Chinese flag merged with a circuit board

With the United States trying to keep sensitive technological advances out of the hands of China’s military, Republican senators are pressuring the federal government to work faster to identify emerging tech that US organizations shouldn’t export to China.

Led by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a frequent critic of the Biden administration, a group of ten Republicans sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Reuters reported. The letter urged her department to identify “emerging and foundational technologies” as required under a 2018 federal law.

“We remain concerned that US 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,” said the letter, which was also signed by Republican stalwarts John Cornyn, Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse, Rick Scott and Todd Young.

Back in 2018, as Chinese entities sought sensitive U.S. technology, Congress sought to tighten the country’s tech export policies. This resulted in a new law requiring the Commerce Department to identify cutting-edge technologies essential to making essential items, such as semiconductors.

That same year, the Commerce Department began assembling a list of dozens of examples of emerging technologies, including face and voice recognition. But it never finalized that list, leading to Republican senators’ most recent outcry.

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“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,” their letter warned.

In response, the Commerce Department said it’s not that simple 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.’”

It added that it has already restricted U.S. suppliers from selling to companies like Huawei.

In April, Senator Cotton was one of two Republican lawmakers to call for wide-ranging restrictions on semiconductor design software exports to China, citing national security concerns.

The lawmakers urged the Commerce Department to designate the chip design tools, known as electronic design automation (EDA) software, as a “foundational technology,” making it subject to export restrictions.

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