BIS Nominee “Deeply Concerned” about China’s Military-Civil Fusion Threat

By a voice vote on Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee endorsed Alan Estevez and Thea Kendler to serve as Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security (BIS) and as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, respectively. The vote advances President Biden’s nominees—who, if confirmed, will play pivotal roles in shaping U.S. export control policy—for consideration by the full Senate this fall.

In response to prepared Questions for the Record, Mr. Estevez stated that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) poses “one of our most difficult challenges related to U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives, including our ability to maintain U.S. technological leadership in critical areas.”

“I am deeply concerned about the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) efforts to seek U.S. technologies to further its military modernization, such as through diverting items from civilian to military applications (i.e., its military-civil fusion strategy), creating illicit procurement networks, and stealing intellectual property, among other destabilizing activities,” Mr. Estevez wrote. “If confirmed, I [will] appropriately use the authorities of BIS under the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA) of 2018 to protect our national security and foreign policy interests while strengthening our technological innovation and leadership.”

Acknowledging that the PRC’s siphoning of dual-use technologies to military end-users threatens “our values and interests, as well as those of our allies and partners,” Mr. Estevez pledged to secure critical U.S. supply chains, specifically naming semiconductors.

“A vibrant domestic semiconductor manufacturing capability” is critical to American competitiveness, he noted. “I will support the Commerce Department’s work… to tackle near-term bottlenecks in the semiconductor industry and to strengthen U.S. leadership in semiconductor manufacturing.” He added that, if approved, he would direct staff to implement investments authorized by Congress to “shore up” domestic supply chains.

Mr. Estevez did not appear to shy away from applying export controls to prevent adversaries like the PRC from acquiring sensitive U.S.-developed technologies. “I do not see a reason to remove Huawei from the Entity List,” he wrote—a commitment some Republican lawmakers questioned of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo after she said “all aspects of the approach to U.S. economic and technological competition are up for review” during confirmation hearings in February.

“I will ensure that BIS adheres to the regulatory requirements for removing any party from the Entity List,” Mr. Estevez continued. “I will prioritize identifying and implementing appropriate controls on exports of emerging and foundational technologies, consistent with the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA) of 2018.”

Whether Mr. Estevez will prioritize stopping the flow of U.S. technology to the PRC and its military over American companies’ sales to China could determine the outcome of the power struggle between both countries. Eric Hirschhorn, BIS director for President Obama, stated it plainly earlier this summer: “You don’t balance national security with sales—you can’t.”