The Biden Administration Shouldn’t Back Down on Chinese Tech

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Huawei logo at a shopping mall in Shanghai, China (Aly Song/Reuters)

Asked Friday about the future of the China trade deal negotiated by the Trump administration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “everything the past administration has put in place is under review as it relates to our national security approach.”

This almost certainly also applies to the steps that the Trump administration took to deal with Chinese technology. There are many steps here worth preserving, but two stand out in light of the past week’s events.

The first is the Clean Network program, an extensive diplomatic push by the State Department that aimed to wean the rest of the world off of technology vulnerable to authoritarian regimes. By the end of the last administration, over 60 countries had signed onto agreements to curtail the use of equipment and carriers with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

This is exactly the kind of multilateral approach that national-security officials in Biden’s orbit have called for, yet the new State Department team neglected to commit to continuing it when asked by the Daily Caller:

Biden’s State Department told the Daily Caller News Foundation that it will pursue a more comprehensive approach towards combatting Chinese technology abuses, but did not address whether it intends to continue the Clean Network program or whether it was concerned that South Korea refused to join the initiative.

“Technology is at the center of U.S.-China competition. China has been willing to do whatever it takes to gain a technological advantage — stealing intellectual property, engaging in industrial espionage, and forcing technology transfer,” a State Department spokesperson told the DCNF.

“President Biden is firmly committed to making sure Chinese companies cannot misappropriate and misuse American data — and to ensuring that U.S. technology does not support China’s malign activities,” the spokesperson added. “We also have to play a much better offense, by investing in the sources of our technological strength — supercharging American research and development so that we maintain our innovation edge.”

There’s some unfinished business here. Although dozens of close U.S. partners have joined the Clean Network, some countries with major companies that use Huawei equipment, such as South Korea, have given the initiative a cold shoulder. The Biden team ought to continue this important work.

The other measure worth continuing is the Trump-era blacklisting of Huawei. It hardly needs stating that American entities should not be doing business with a telecoms giant that has extensive ties with the Chinese government. And yet, Gina Riamondo, the governor of Rhode Island, and Biden’s pick to run the Commerce Department didn’t commit to keeping Huawei on the entity list, Commerce’s blacklist, when asked during her confirmation hearing.

This didn’t go unnoticed. In a statement, Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on senators to put a hold on Raimondo’s nomination:

Huawei is not a normal telecommunications company – it is a CCP military company that threatens 5G security in our country, steals U.S. intellectual property, and supports the Chinese Communist Party’s genocide in Xinjiang and their human rights abuses across the country. We need a Commerce Department with strong national security credentials and a Secretary with a clear understanding of the CCP threat. Saying people should not use Huawei and actually keeping them on the Entity List are two very different things that result in very different outcomes. I again strongly urge the Biden Administration to reconsider this dangerous position. Until they make their intentions clear on whether they will keep Huawei on the Entity List, I urge my Senate colleagues to hold Ms. Raimondo’s confirmation.

Although Psaki attempted to clarify Raimondo’s comments by stressing the administration’s commitment to barring “untrusted vendors” from American networks, she also didn’t say anything about keeping Huawei on the entity list.

The Biden team has expressed a general willingness to maintain many Trump-era policies with respect to China, but the lack of commitment to these key parts of its tech strategy are cause for alarm.

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