The US has identified increased technological competition with China as a major threat to national security. But the Commerce Department-led process that reviews U.S. technology exports to the country approves nearly all requests and oversees increased sales of some particularly important technologies, according to an analysis of trade data. From the report: Of the total $125 billion in U.S. exports to China in 2020, officials required a license for less than half a percent, Commerce Department data show. Of this share, the agency approved 94%, or 2,652 applications for technology exports to China. Figures omit statements “returned without action,” meaning their results were indeterminate. The result: The US continues to send China an array of semiconductors, aerospace components, artificial intelligence technology and other items that can be used to advance Beijing’s military interests.

The Commerce Department says it is focused on long-term strategic competition with China and makes export control decisions with its interagency partners at the defense, state and energy departments. Critics say Commerce Department officials are improperly prioritizing U.S. commercial interests over national security and that an urgent regulatory overhaul is needed to respond to the threat from Beijing. For Steve Koonen, the Pentagon’s former top analyst for export controls to China, the high level of approvals for the sale of technology with potential military uses is evidence of a significant policy failure.

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