Countering China: Raimondo Calls for Beefing Up Tech Export Controls

Foreign Affairs

Simi Valley (California): US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo  stressed the need to tighten export controls, and even more importantly their enforcement, to prevent China from outpacing the US in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).

Specifically, Raimondo used a keynote at the annual Reagan National Security Forum here to call on Congress for more funds to beef up the department’s enforcement arm, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS).

“We’re a couple of years ahead of China. No way are we gonna let them catch up. We cannot let them catch up. So we’re gonna deny them our most cutting edge technology,” she said. “I’ll tell you, this stuff — when I say this stuff, I mean supercomputing, AI technology, AI chips — in the wrong hands is as deadly as any weapon that we could provide. And so we have to be serious if we’re going to meet that threat, serious about enforcement.”

Raimondo reminded the audience that it has long been the case that America’s national security rests upon economic security.

“I think everybody here knows the fact that our national defence is more than guns, missiles, tanks and drones. It’s technology, it’s innovation. … You cannot be a strong nation that defends itself unless you have the most competitive economy in the world,” she said. “Economic prosperity and opportunity matters every bit as much as pure military might. To protect our national security is to stay in our place in the world.”

While that has always been true, Raimondo said advanced modern technology “is more important than ever to our national security,” she said. “So as our military apparatus depends more on technology — whether that is artificial intelligence, spectrum strategy, supercomputing, cybersecurity, semiconductor — it’s technology that matters more to our national security, and to the Commerce Department.”

Raimondo noted that she has been working hand-in-glove with Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and senior military commanders in the field. To that end, in July she travelled to Panama with Gen Laura Richardson, head of US Southern Command, and is planning to accompany Admiral John Aquilino, head of US Indo-Pacific Command, to the Philippines next year.

“This is game on, game on,” she said, stressing that Commerce is “at the red hot centre” of the technology aspect of national defence: running the Biden administration’s AI policy, managing export control and leading on the new White House spectrum strategy.

Raimondo said that the administration is “building a more muscular Commerce Department to take on these challenges,” but lamented the fact that BIS “has the same budget today as it did a decade ago” despite the increasing challenges and workload.

“I have a $200 million budget. That’s, like, the cost of a few fighter jets. Come on! If we’re serious, let’s go fund this operation like it needs to be funded so we can do what we need to do to protect America,” she exhorted the crowd — especially the lawmakers in attendance, who are still in ongoing negotiations about the federal budget.