Importance of Crucial BIS Post in International Spotlight

During the past week top international newspapers have noted the vital importance of President Biden’s choice to head the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). The 450-person agency “oversees the nation’s export-control rules, giving it a big role in deciding which technologies are exported to China…”

The Wall Street Journal said the pick will “offer clues to how the White House will address security risks posed by Chinese tech companies.” At the same time, the Financial Times wrote that the “once low-profile post… has emerged as a as a key battleground for China hawks in Washington who want to push Joe Biden to take a hard line on technology exports to Beijing.”

Two candidates have emerged as possible choices.

First, James Mulvenon is an intelligence expert with SOSi International. China Tech Threat has been pleased to collaborate with Mulvenon in underscoring the importance of semiconductors to the US economy and combatting Chinese government abuse. His critical research identified the threat of SMIC and YMTC, and most recently discussed the role of semiconductor toolmakers like KLA, ASML, and Lam and provided the necessary empirical proof for BIS to adopt restrictions against Chinese military aligned firms.

Mulvenon’s broad views are made clear in his recent commentary in War on the Rocks: “The United States needs to protect its innovation base from China and cannot blindly allow its technological advantage to be acquired by China’s state-owned enterprises and ‘national champions.’ The incoming Commerce Department leadership, for example, needs to use export controls to carefully restrict critical technology from Beijing and to shape behavior.’”

Second, Kevin Wolf is an accomplished export control lawyer at Akin-Gump. He served as Assistant Secretary for Export Administration at the U.S Department of Commerce, from 2010 to 2017, during President Obama’s terms. Wolf acknowledges that the China security threat has “evolved considerably.” He suggests the BIS job requires “someone who understands the threats, the technologies, the supply chains, the rules and how to create a new approach with a smaller group of close allies.” 

The Financial Times accurately reflects China Tech Threat’s “worry about China’s ‘military-civil fusion’” program, which forces Chinese companies to share technology with the People’s Liberation Army. They say the US must be more vigilant about exports because of Chinese threats, and also because of how some technology enables human rights abuses, including the persecution of Muslim Uighurs in the north-west region of Xinjiang and the repression of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.”

In the weeks ahead, China Tech Threat plans to monitor the appointment closely and heed the counsel of AEI scholar Derek Scissors who suggests the nominee should be prepared to answer difficult questions about the technology threat from Beijing.