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Questions Surround Sanctions Response to Potential Taiwan Invasion, Commission Hears

Although the U.S. and its allies should form a new multilateral export control regime that could be used to penalize Beijing if it invades Taiwan (see 2206100021), it remains unclear how many allies would be willing to go along with new China sanctions, panelists told a congressional commission this week. Some countries in Europe and Asia may have an interest in joining together to deter Beijing, the experts said, but imposing severe multilateral export controls against China would be more challenging than imposing similar measures against Moscow.

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Bonnie Glaser, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Asia program, said there is “greater reluctance” from U.S. allies to impose similar export restrictions against China. Glaser, speaking during a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing, said she has spoken with European officials and companies who would be willing to cease operations in China, but they also “really hope that China doesn't take any actions here that would cause secondary sanctions to go into effect.”

Glaser said the U.S. hasn’t yet had substantial conversations with allies about a sanctions response to China, although they agree that Beijing shouldn’t interfere in Taiwan. The G-7 and the EU in a statement this week said they are “concerned” about Beijing’s recent threats involving the Taiwan Strait after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visited the island.

"I think our European allies and some of our Asian allies are willing to enter into this conversation. I've heard that they are concerned, they want to talk about it,” Glaser said about a potential sanctions response. “But from what I hear, that conversation at an official level has really not started in any really in-depth way.”

She stressed that it’s still unclear what type of penalties Beijing should face if it invades Taiwan. “There is no one-on-one comparison” with Russia, said Glaser, a former State Department official. “The actions taken against Russia are not necessarily the right ones to be taking against China.”

Emily Weinstein, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, said the U.S. should start by codifying a new multilateral export control regime to complement the four existing ones -- including the Wassenaar Arrangement (see 2205240039). “To deal with the crises of the future, including a potential invasion of Taiwan,” Weinstein said, “we need to consider additional export control measures.” The U.S. should also create new government bodies to better study critical technology supply chains and emerging and foundational technologies.

But like Glaser, she also said the approach will be different from the one taken against Russia. “A similar approach to China would yield vastly different results because China is a central actor in global supply chains,” Weinstein said, adding that the U.S. would be “unlikely to muster the same multilateral approach in any set of scenarios, short of an invasion of Taiwan.” She also said the U.S. should “temper expectations when it comes to export controls, especially when thinking about China,” saying the controls could delay but not indefinitely hinder China’s technological development.

Commissioner Derek Scissors was skeptical a new multilateral export control regime is the best way to counter China. “China is really different than Russia,” he said. “So what I think we get out of codifying what we learned from Russia is a regime that does not work at all with the Chinese.”

If the U.S. decides against codifying a multilateral regime, Weinstein said it should at least go after “low-hanging fruit,” such as better harmonization of military end-user requirements among its trading partners. She said “most of our allies have shown that they actually can go beyond the four multilateral export control regimes,” which have historically been limited to controls that address more traditional technology-proliferation issues. “They've broken the mold on that,” Weinstein said. “They've shown us that they can do that.”

Other commissioners also said they were unsure if the best, immediate path to counter China is a new multilateral export control regime. Commissioner Michael Wessel said the U.S.’s execution of export controls so far has been “very inconsistent,” pointing specifically to the “lack of harmonization and consistency of sanctions across entities.” He also said the U.S. has struggled to complete end-user verifications in certain cases, including China (see 2205120042).

“You're arguing for multilateral coordination, which I agree with,” Wessel said. “But it seems that we're enhancing our own vulnerabilities and advancing Chinese interests while we wait.”