November 18, 2019 / 7:05 PM / a month ago

Lawmakers urge U.S. government to tighten export controls to China on security fears

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Senator Tom Cotton on Monday urged the U.S. government to swiftly issue rules to make it harder to export sophisticated technologies to China that Beijing can use to boost its military.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) talks to reporters after the weekly Senate policy lunches at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

A letter by the two, seen by Reuters, was addressed to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The Commerce Department has been tasked by a 2018 law with drafting regulations to toughen export controls for cutting-edge technologies.

To launch the process, the department sought public comment in November 2018 on how best to design so-called emerging technology rules, which could cover anything from artificial intelligence to biotechnology.

A year later, however, the agency has not proposed any rules and has not yet sought input on how to regulate exports of so-called “foundational technologies,” those needed to produce cutting-edge goods.

“We understand the technical challenges of evaluating cutting-edge technologies,” Schumer and Cotton wrote, “but it is imperative that the department act expeditiously to develop guidance around these technologies to prevent them from being exported to our military competitors.”

A Commerce Department spokesman said the department had received the letter. “The rulemaking process is ongoing, and the Department of Commerce has a number of proposed rules in the review process,” the spokesman said in a statement.

There is a growing chorus of frustration directed at the agency at the heart of the U.S. technology battle with China.

Michael McCaul, ranking member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, penned a letter to Ross last month calling for swifter action on the rules, arguing that China was “sprinting ahead” in the meantime.

In their letter, Schumer and Cotton said China was aiming to acquire American technology with both military and civilian uses - items that are easier to acquire due to some harmless applications but that can be used in warfare and defense.

“This strategy of ‘Military-Civil Fusion’ is deeply concerning to Congress, as it leads to American businesses unwittingly exporting sensitive technology to our primary military competitor,” they wrote, asking the department to provide an update on the status of the rulemaking efforts.

The Commerce Department has also missed an October deadline to lay out rules to protect the telecoms supply chain from national security threats.

Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Rosalba O'Brien

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