Assuming the position?

Joe Biden’s government has not yet committed to a path on trade in technology with China


THE PROCESS of filling vacancies at the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) does not normally make the news. An agency of the Department of Commerce, BIS is tasked with running America’s export-control regulations. These rules were originally designed to prevent the components of weapons of mass destruction from being shipped off to terrorists. The work of overseeing them was important public service, but carried out in the background, away from the public eye.

工业与安全局(Bureau of Industry and Security,以下简称 BIS)填补职位空缺的过程通常不会登上新闻版面。BIS 是美国商务部的下属机构,其任务是执行美国的出口管制法规。这些法规最初是为了确保大规模杀伤性武器的零部件不会落到恐怖分子手中。监督这些法规的执行是重要的公共服务,但这项工作在幕后进行,远离公众视线。

Donald Trump’s presidency changed that. He and the China hawks in his administration repurposed BIS and its regulations as a weapon against China’s technological ascendancy. They rewrote the rules several times between 2018 and 2020 in an escalating series of attempts to cut off Huawei, a Chinese technology giant, from global semiconductor supply chains. Huawei has reported declining revenue in its two most recent financial quarters as a result, proving that America can use export controls to disrupt Chinese technological development, at least in the short term.

特朗普的任期改变了这一点。他以及他政府中的对华鹰派把 BIS 及其监管改造成了对抗中国技术优势的武器。2018 年至 2020 年间,他们多次修改这些法规,以不断升级的行动试图将中国科技巨头华为从全球半导体供应链中切除出去。华为最近连续两个财季报告营收随之下滑,证明至少在短期内,美国可以利用出口管制来扰乱中国的技术发展。

This put BIS right in the middle of America’s biggest foreign-policy challenge, containing China’s rise. Speculation about its leadership began soon after Mr Biden took Office. But the chaotic methods of Mr Trump’s administration created a new political dynamic around the agency. The repurposing of regulations often left gaps between what the new rules actually said and what the Trump administration claimed they meant for China in speeches and press releases. Lawyers advised their clients to follow the rules to the letter, thereby allowing them to carry on doing business with Chinese entities where it was still legal to do so.

这就把 BIS 放在了遏制中国崛起这一美国最大外交政策挑战的中心。拜登上台后不久,人们就开始猜测谁将出任 BIS 局长。但特朗普政府的混乱做法带来了围绕该局的一种新的政治动态。改变法规的用途后,在新法规的实际内容和特朗普政府在演讲和新闻稿中宣称它们对中国的影响之间往往存有差距。律师们建议其客户严格遵循实际规定,这样就能在仍然合法的领域里继续与中方实体开展业务。

The result is that many export-control experts were seen as“soft on China”。On May 4 th a Republican congressman from Texas, Michael McCaul, called on the president to nominate a candidate that has“real national-security experience, deep knowledge of the CCP, and will not be conflicted by deep ties to industry”。

结果是许多出口管制专家被视为「对中国手软」。5 月 4 日,来自得克萨斯州的共和党众议员迈克尔・麦考尔(Michael McCaul)呼吁总统提名的候选人应具有「真正的国家安全经验,对中共有深刻了解,并且不会因为与产业界有密切联系而有利益冲突」。

It is this sort of rhetoric that has driven the administration’s consideration of“outsider”candidates who do not carry the damaging expert label. The archetype is James Mulvenon, a defence analyst who became known in Washington last year for authorship of a report linking SMIC, China’s leading chipmaker, with the People’s Liberation Army. That Mr Mulvenon has even been under consideration demonstrates how far the role of BIS and the politics around it have shifted, as he is not a lawyer and has no experience administering or complying with export-control regulations. Barack Obama appointed a lawyer, George W. Bush a tech-company boss. The post was vacant for most of Mr Trump’s term; hence, in part, the chaos.

正是这种论调促使拜登政府考虑任命「局外人」,他们不带有不利的专家标签。一个典型是国防分析师毛文杰(James Mulvenon),他去年撰写了一份报告,把中芯国际这家中国领先的芯片制造商与中国军方联系起来,这让他开始在华盛顿出名。毛文杰既不是律师,也没有管理或遵守出口管制法规的经验,却在被考虑之列,这表明 BIS 的角色及其所处的政治环境已经转变。奥巴马当年任命的 BIS 局长是一名律师,小布什选择了一家科技公司的老板。在特朗普任内,这个职位在大部分时间里空缺,在一定程度上造成了混乱。

Political appointees do not determine policy, but rather implement what flows from the government, and from the National Security Council (NSC) in particular. Mr Biden’s NSC contains plenty of expertise on China and technology. Saif Khan, the council’s Director for Technology and National Security, published a paper in January which laid out a plan for curtailing Chinese semiconductor development. Its other members want to develop a tough new line, Less for the industrial-competition reasons that motivated Mr Trump and his administration than because of the technology-enabled human-rights abuses that the Chinese government is perpetrating in Xinjiang and beyond. Yet the plan, at present, appears to be unfinished. People close to Mr Biden’s staff say that policy on China and technology remains undecided.

获政治任命的官员并不制定政策,而是执行美国政府、特别是国家安全委员会(National Security Council,下称国安会)的政策。拜登的国安会在中国和技术问题方面具有丰富的专业知识。国安会技术与国家安全主任赛义夫・汗(Saif Khan)在 1 月发表的文章中提出了限制中国半导体发展的计划。国安会的其他成员希望制定一条强硬的新路线,更多是因为他们认为中国政府正借助技术在新疆及其他地区侵犯人权,而不是像特朗普及其政府那样主要出于产业竞争方面的原因。不过这一计划目前似乎尚未制定完毕。与拜登下属关系密切的人士说,对华政策和技术政策仍然悬而未决。

The choice of an under-secretary to run BIS, when it is made, will be a sign of whether the Biden administration has a real plan. If the president chooses someone with little to no experience with export-control law, but who has a hard line on China, that will indicate that domestic politics are dominating the administration’s thinking and that it lacks the confidence to fend off critics like Mr McCaul. The appointment of someone who knows the law and can carry out the government’s bidding quickly would suggest that Mr Biden does, indeed, have a plan for redrawing the lines of technological trade with China, and that he intends to use the most experienced people possible to do so.

最终选择谁来出任管理 BIS 的副部长,将是拜登政府是否真有切实计划的标志。如果拜登选择了某个缺少或者完全没有出口管制法律经验、但对中国态度强硬的人,那将表明国内政治在主导这届政府的思路,而且政府没有信心去抵挡麦考尔等人的批评。如果任命一个懂法律并可以迅速执行政府意图的人,就显示拜登确实有一项重新设计对华技术贸易路线的计划,并打算让最有经验的人担此重任

Published since September 1843 to take part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”


Project Che