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US Should Enhance Aviation Export Controls, Put More Pressure on Huawei, Panel Told

The U.S. government should re-examine its export controls for aviation and shipbuilding to slow China’s advances in those dual-use sectors, a congressionally mandated commission heard May 23. The government also should consider more restrictions on Huawei and improve its efforts to get allies on board with U.S. export controls, the panel was told.

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While U.S. policymakers understandably have recently focused on restricting exports of advanced computing chips and other new technologies, they should do a “refresh” in more traditional areas that are mainly for civilian purposes but also can enhance China’s military capabilities, such as aircraft engines and maritime navigation systems, said Peter Harrell, a former National Security Council official in the Biden administration.

“We’ve been so focused on the high-tech sector, I’d like to see us also go back to some of those core defense industrial base sectors and really kick the tires on how can we pull that apart, slow that down a bit more,” he told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. "I think re-examining aerospace and civil aviation would be a good place to start. What can we do to throw a little bit of sand in the gears on some of their shipbuilding?"

Harrell, who is now a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also testified that “we need to move up the pressure ladder” for China’s Huawei, which is a “major national security threat.” He said limiting exports and investment has proven insufficient to impede Huawei and may need to be supplemented with more restrictive measures. At the same time, the U.S. will have to continue licensing foreign companies that have legacy Huawei equipment.

Kevin Wolf, an Akin Gump lawyer and a former senior official at the Bureau of Industry and Security, told the commission that the U.S. needs to do a better job convincing its allies that the chip controls BIS released in October 2022 and expanded a year later (see 2310170055) are intended for national security purposes, not economic protectionism, and that such restrictions would benefit the allies’ security interests as well. Making that case is difficult because chips are “so indirect from the actual development or production of an actual weapon,” he testified.

Wolf recommended creating a senior position in the executive branch to focus full time on persuading allies and partners to expand their export controls, particularly for China and Russia.

Harrell, who endorsed Wolf’s proposal, noted in his written testimony that U.S. allies’ chip controls trail U.S. controls in some respects. For example, the allies have not joined the U.S. in restricting the servicing of existing chipmaking equipment in China.

Harrell said the senior position suggested by Wolf could go beyond chips and play a role in other sectors. “Having recently returned from discussions in Europe, it's clear that European policymakers are deeply disturbed by recent public revelations about the depth of Chinese support for Russia’s defense industrial base,” Harrell said. “This potentially opens the door to multilateral export controls that could be used to weaken China’s own defense industrial base. At the very least, it is worth serious diplomatic discussions with our allies to determine what scope there might be to do so.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee May 21 that China has provided “overwhelming support," including large amounts of machine tools and microelectronics, to Russia’s defense industrial base during the Ukraine war (see 2405210054).