The Biden administration is close to tightening rules on some overseas investments by U.S. companies in an effort to limit China’s ability to acquire technologies that could improve its military prowess, according to a U.S. official familiar with the deliberations.
The soon-to-be-issued executive order from President Joe Biden will limit American investment in advanced technologies that have national security applications — such as next-generation military capabilities that could help China improve the speed and accuracy of military decision making, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The expected action is the latest effort by the White House to target China’s military and technology sectors at a time of increasingly fraught relations between the world’s two biggest economies.
In October, the Biden administration imposed export controls to limit China’s ability to access advanced chips, which it says can be used to make weapons, commit human rights abuses and improve the speed and accuracy of its military logistics.
The complicated relationship has become further strained in recent weeks after the U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon last month that traversed the country. The Biden administration has also publicized U.S. intelligence findings that raise concern Beijing is weighing providing Russia weaponry for its ongoing war on Ukraine.
The tensions were on display as top diplomats from the Group of 20 industrialized and developing nations ended a contentious meeting in New Delhi on Thursday with no consensus on the Ukraine war and concerns about China’s widening global influence dominating much of the talks.
Meanwhile, China this past week blasted the new House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party after it held its first hearing on countering Beijing’s influence. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning demanded its members “discard their ideological bias and zero-sum Cold War mentality.”
Administration officials have been consulting with allies as they’ve worked on formulating the new regulations on U.S. investment, according to the official.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on Saturday that the Treasury and Commerce departments delivered reports to lawmakers on Friday detailing plans for the new regulatory system to address U.S. overseas investment in advanced technologies. The agencies said they expected to seek additional money for the investment screening program in the White House budget, which is scheduled to be released on March 9, according to the Journal.
A White House National Security Council spokesperson declined to comment on the Treasury and Commerce reports, but noted that administration officials have kept Congress apprised on its progress in crafting an approach to overseas investment.
The expected action is certain to face pushback from U.S. firms. Administration officials have sought to signal to the business community that even as they look to examine rules on U.S. investment in China, they are mindful of not overreaching.
“One of the most important things we can do, from my perspective, is make sure that we draw clear lines between what is competition and what is national security because, fundamentally, my view is that the United States does well when we’re competing on a level playing field with any country in the world,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said at recent Council on Foreign Relations event. “But we also want, in the narrow spaces where we see national security risk, be able to use the tools at our disposal to protect the national security of the United States of America.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers last year urged Biden to establish a tougher screening system for investments in foreign adversaries with China being top of mind.