Recent Congressional visits to Taiwan have spotlighted the tension between the United States and China. Aggressive military posturing by the communist country, coupled with its hostile tactics aimed at controlling an array of economic sectors, have closely entwined our national security goals and our economic future.
In a recent speech, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called China the most serious threat to long-term world order, warning that “Beijing wants to put itself at the center of global innovation and manufacturing, increase other countries’ technological dependence, and then use that dependence to impose its foreign policy preferences.”
This clear desire by the Chinese Communist Party to dominate the future of tech is an economic and strategic concern that must elicit a unified government effort to be countered.
Congressional efforts that build upon former President Donald Trump’s work to onshore industries of critical economic and national security importance have been an encouraging start.
The $53 billion in funding recently provided for domestic semiconductor manufacturing will help secure a critical segment of our supply chain and strengthen our competitive edge against China.
This investment comes in the nick of time since we need all hands on deck to help stem damage from continuing combative industrial policy action by both the Chinese government and its private sector.
Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE, for example, have been identified as hostile actors by the international intelligence community and consequently have had their products banned from inclusion in the global rollout of 5G network equipment.
Section 889 of federal procurement rules bars contractors from using ZTE or Huawei equipment, and the Federal Communications Commission has instituted a “rip and replace” program that reimburses US network operators for removing unsecure equipment they previously purchased from Chinese vendors.
A recent incident in the heart of America illustrates the exact threat that companies like Huawei and ZTE pose to our national security.
An FBI investigation determined that Chinese-made equipment installed on top of cell towers near military bases had compromised highly classified Department of Defense communications, including those from the US Strategic Command, which oversees our country’s nuclear arsenal. It is exactly this kind of equipment that the Federal Communications Commission’s program is targeting.
According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, the FBI determined that Chinese-made Huawei equipment atop towers near US military bases in the rural Midwest was capable of capturing and disrupting highly restricted communications used by US Strategic Command.
— Franz-Stefan Gady (@HoansSolo) July 25, 2022
In the face of this encompassing technology threat, the Biden administration has finally put together a coherent strategy that will help stem China’s hostile practices.
The president also recently visited South Korea and Japan to highlight his Administration’s commitment to this effort. It includes the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, an initiative to set new guardrails against China.
But as we encourage South Korea, Taiwan, and other trusted international allies to increase economic ties and make significant investments in the US economy (like Samsung’s incoming $17 billion chip factory in Texas), one US government agency has taken steps to undermine America’s goals.
Existing policies at International Trade Commission (ITC) have recently encouraged complainants to seek import bans on vast swaths of safe and reputably sourced IT products, including smartphones, computers, and microchips. This has opened the door to Chinese technology products filling our market and harming national security.
The complainants often originate from so-called “patent trolls” who exist just to acquire patents and sue companies for alleged infringement to make quick cash. They flock to the ITC, where they argue an entire product line should be excluded from the US market due to the most minor alleged claim of patent infringement.
This burdens the productive companies with costs and risks, reduces US innovation potential, and could significantly limit the number of products available to consumers.
For example, recent ITC cases filed by one foreign patent troll have targeted the vast majority of trusted smartphone manufacturers. An exclusion order of this scale would virtually ban the sale of all smartphones on the American market today and could open the door to Chinese smartphones such as Honor, a former Huawei brand that is desperately trying to rebound after feeling the effects of US sanctions. This is wholly inconsistent with US national security goals.
At a time when all of the US government is supposed to be moving in one direction to strengthen our national security, the ITC unfortunately doesn’t seem to be getting the message.
As such, it may be time for agencies like the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Defense to weigh in on these technology cases in front of the ITC.
By creating a system that helps patent trolls burden productive American companies, the ITC is leaving the door wide open for an exclusion order that could allow Chinese companies to corner the market for wide swaths of the tech industry. Fixing this should be a high priority.
Major General Bob Dees, US Army, Retired, has a breadth of national security expertise, including development of high technology weapons and communications systems. He is President of Resilience Consulting LLC, promoting individual, leader, and national resilience best practices.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.
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