As the Biden Administration begins a push on Capitol Hill to bolster U.S. competitiveness against China, Axios reports that a recent dispute among senior advisors may signal disagreement in the White House over trade policy.
With support from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the White House recently urged members of Congress to support legislation that would allocate $250 billion to strengthen U.S. supply chains in key industries, including semiconductors.
In a speech on January 21, President Biden urged Congress to pass funding to incentivize U.S. chipmakers. “To be able to say, made in Ohio, made in America—what we used to always be able to say 25, 30 years ago—that’s what this is about,” the President said. “At the end of the day, this is about national security, economic security and it’s about jobs.”
The Axios article this week notes that tensions over the White House’s China policy came to a head at a NSC meeting last September, during which U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai accused National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan of leaking comments to the media to undermine her agency’s position of whether to investigate Chinese industrial subsidies.
“The rare window” into personal clashes within the White House “illuminates the tension between the president’s trade and national security advisers about how and when to execute aspects of their China strategy,” the article states.
Despite President Biden’s firm position that China represents the greatest long-term challenge to the U.S., “the Administration’s plan for competing in the region consists of a single 51-word paragraph,” Politico reported on Monday.
The President’s advisors are divided into “three camps,” the article adds. “The result: inaction. Policy options are debated, teed up for release, and then pulled back — a kind of vaporware China economic policy.”
President Biden has largely maintained his predecessor’s hardline approach—including adding more than 50 Chinese companies with ties to the Chinese Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army to the Entity List.
Yet, it is unclear whether the White House has a concerted plan to protect the United States’ competitive advantage in key industries, particularly semiconductor design and manufacturing.
During a China Tech Threat roundtable forum last week, Nazak Nikakhtar, former Assistant Secretary for Industry and Analysis at the U.S. International Trade Administration, said the Administration should be “more aggressive” in applying export controls on sensitive technology.
“Multilateral sounds good. But in practice, it’s not actually effective because of our allies’ different levels of risk tolerance,” Ms. Nikakhtar said. “We should be mindful and respectful of that, and then move forward with what we believe we need to control.”
As it relates to moving forward, it’s also important for key positions within the Administration to be filled. For example, top leaders for the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) have not yet been confirmed and will have important voices and roles as it relates to export controls and protecting America’s strategic technologies. We’re following BIS extensively and producing policy recommendations for the incoming leadership. Visit: futureofbis.com for more.