After talks with China’s president at the G20 summit in Japan, President Trump announced on June 29 that “he would allow” U.S. companies to continue to sell “product” to Huawei. The statement, construed by some as a “concession” or “reversal” of U.S. policy toward Huawei, has generated confusion and disagreement from China “hawks” in Congress and elsewhere. This rundown of Huawei legal and policy issues discusses the presidential statement, its lack of legal effect to date, its context, and why technology industry stakeholders need to understand the complete U.S.-China technology picture to navigate developments and mitigate risk.
The United States has adopted a whole-of-government approach to counter China’s “economic aggression” or “economic espionage,” umbrella terms that encompass a range of conduct including IP theft, forced technology transfer, academic espionage, and influence operations in the United States. The whole-of-government approach illustrates that the most strategically significant and complex confrontation between the United States and China is not the “trade war.” Rather, the race to dominate future technologies like artificial intelligence and 5G underpins the most complex legal and policy issues between the two nations. The U.S.-China tech war, and the United States’ whole-of-government strategy, has put Chinese technology companies under the hot light of U.S. legal and political scrutiny. Companies like Huawei and ZTE, relative unknowns in the United States until recently, have found themselves on the wrong side of U.S. law enforcement.
The “Protect Our Universities Act of 2019” is a a bill “to create a task force within the Department of Education to address the threat of foreign government influence and threats to academic research integrity on college campuses, and for other purposes." Among other things, the Bill would restrict foreign student participation in federally funded academic research deemed "sensitive" to national security.
On national security grounds, the United States is developing and implementing a whole-of-government approach to maintain the country’s technological edge through legal and policy measures to restrict Chinese access to U.S. technology and intellectual property, including by: (1) limiting or prohibiting certain foreign investment and commercial transactions; (2) adopting export controls on emerging technologies; (3) instituting supply chain exclusions; (4) curbing participation in academic and other research; and (5) combating cyber intrusions and industrial and academic espionage. Additionally, concerns about Chinese government influence have spurred proposals to regulate the activities of entities viewed as Chinese government influence operators.
This graphic depicts key issues between the United States and China, as identified by the United States as of January 26, 2019. This is not an exhaustive depiction, but captures key categories and sub-categories of Chinese state and private practices, state policies, and state structural characteristics that are the subject of U.S. government complaints (as raised from within and outside of the Trump Administration).
If there remain doubts that the U.S.-China trade war and technology war present real risks for U.S. colleges and universities, a recent report that a U.S. university has secured insurance against the risk of material reductions in Chinese student enrollment should put those doubts to bed. The risks are so real that they are insurable.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently launched an initiative to “Combat Chinese Economic Espionage.” Announced on November 1, 2018 by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the China Initiative acts on the Trump Administration’s previous findings “concerning China’s practices” and “reflects the Department’s strategic priority of countering Chinese national security threats and reinforces the President’s overall national security strategy.” The China Initiative presents emerging issues for academia, the technology industry, and the private sector broadly.
Fundamental research is excluded from export controls jurisdiction. But given growing concerns about alleged Chinese "academic espionage" at American universities and transfers to China of U.S. scientific and technological information and know-how, including through Chinese students, researchers, and others in fundamental and research pipelines, this excerpt is re-posted separately as foreign (particularly Chinese) access to and participation in U.S. fundamental research may be curbed by non-export controls means.
Measures to curb foreign access to U.S. technology have taken and will likely take various forms that will cut across industries and legal disciplines. Among them, as discussed below, are restrictions on foreign access to and influence on U.S. technology through (1) foreign investment, (2) supply chain exclusions, (3) limits on participation in academic and other research, (4) legal or political curbs on U.S. technology access or transfers through third countries, and (5) countermeasures against foreign control of raw materials essential to technological manufacturing and innovation.
Much of the talk of trade war between the United States and China, and perhaps other countries, has focused on traditional trade measures and counter-measures like tariffs that strike at the core of international trade: most basically, the movement of goods and services across international borders. But there are two additional fronts of a U.S.-China trade war (thus far): intellectual property and the use of U.S. sanctions and other laws to "coerce and deter" economic rivals like China.