5 Key Takeaways from President Biden’s Export Administrator Nominee

This week the Senate Banking Committee advanced Thea Kendler, President Biden’s nominee to serve as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, for a full Senate confirmation vote later this fall. If confirmed, Ms. Kendler will help shape export control policy, a frontline defense against the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) weaponization of U.S. technologies.

Here are five key takeaways from Ms. Kendler’s responses to lawmakers’ Questions for the Record.

  • The PRC’s technological, military and economic rise poses “one of the greatest” threats to U.S. national security.Asked if she agreed, Ms. Kendler wrote, “Yes.” The PRC’s “diversion of dual-use technologies to military uses; theft of intellectual property; human rights abuses; and anti-competitive, unfair and coercive trade practices… threaten our national security, foreign policy, and economic security.”

  • Ms. Kendler recognizes the danger of the PRC’s Military-Civil Fusion Strategy—what Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) called a “total breakdown between China’s private sector and the Chinese Communist Party and its military.” The PRC seeks “U.S. technologies to further its military modernization,” Ms. Kendler wrote, including “diverting items from civilian to military applications.” “I am deeply concerned.”

  • Securing U.S. leadership in semiconductor capabilities must be a top priority for export-control policy. “It is critical for the United States to have diverse, resilient and secure supply chains in critical areas like semiconductors,” which are an “important component” of U.S. competitiveness, Ms. Kendra wrote.

  • Export controls are a critical tool to stop adversaries from stealing and weaponizing sensitive U.S.-made technologies. “I will appropriately use the tools and authorities available at BIS to protect our cutting-edge semiconductor technology, which is crucial to U.S. national and economic security,” Ms. Kendler stated. She added that she would “prioritize identifying and implementing appropriate [export] controls” to limit “the proliferation of emerging and foundational technologies to foreign countries.”

  • A demur on whether national security interests ought to outweigh industry profits? Asked whether U.S. export controls are strong enough to “dissuade” companies like Huawei from “engaging in export violations,” Ms. Kendler left room for interpretation that companies ought to have greater influence:

    “I believe BIS and its interagency partners strive to enhance the effectiveness of U.S. export controls and sanctions regimes by conducting extensive outreach with industry, academia, and other partners to raise awareness of export control requirements and best practices for compliance.” [Emphasis added]

Ms. Kendler was nominated by President Biden to serve as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, an office with the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), in July. Her bio is available here.