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Slotkin bill seeks permanent review process for high-tech Chinese cars

By Grant Schwab, The Detroit News
Published: May 30, 2024, 7:19am

WASHINGTON — Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin released new legislation Wednesday aimed at ensuring federal review of high-tech cars coming from China.

Her bill would codify parts of executive actions from the Trump and Biden administrations that directed the Commerce Department to investigate national security threats from Chinese products.

“If allowed into our markets, Chinese connected vehicles offer the Chinese government a treasure trove of valuable intelligence on the United States, including the potential to collect information on our military bases, critical infrastructure like the power grid and traffic systems, and even locate specific U.S leaders should they so choose,” said Slotkin, of Michigan.

The proposal comes amid a spike in economic and national security concerns over Chinese cars now that the United States’ top geopolitical rival has become a formidable player in the global auto industry. It also comes in an election year where shots at China have become a proven way to score points for Democrats and Republicans alike, including Slotkin, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat in Michigan’s Aug. 6 primary.

The Biden administration recently announced steep new tariffs on Chinese goods, including duties of 100% on electric vehicles and 50% on semiconductors. It also launched a Commerce Department investigation into Chinese internet-connected vehicles in February that will result in proposed restrictions sometime this fall.

“Today, nearly every new auto is a connected auto — with sophisticated sensors, computers, and the ability to transmit and receive data at long distance,” Slotkin said in a press release.

She added: “These technologies enable important safety and convenience features that save lives, prevent crashes, keep us from getting lost, and connect us to one another. But they also gather, process, and transmit huge amounts of data with intelligence value for potential adversaries.”

Slotkin’s proposal builds off the Commerce probe by permanently granting the department authority to examine transactions involving Chinese vehicles and determine whether they pose a national security risk.

Former president Donald Trump first instructed the Commerce Department via Executive Order 13873 to undertake reviews of all products from foreign adversaries — not just cars — that involve information and communications technology. President Joe Biden affirmed that order and elaborated on it via Executive Order 14034, directing the department to specifically scrutinize products that capture large amounts of personal data.

Slotkin, also a former Central Intelligence Agency officer and Pentagon official, has been active on the issue of Chinese vehicles and investment in recent months. She said in a press release that “China owns a fast-growing share of the connected auto market in Europe and Mexico, so now is the time to make sure our defenses are up, before these vehicles enter the U.S. market.”

The release also stated that Slotkin’s proposal would “go beyond the limits presented by traditional trade-restriction tools, such as tariffs, which may not prevent countries of concern from establishing production in Mexico or other nations for export to the United States.”

The note is likely a reference to concerns by some in the industry that Chinese EV powerhouse BYD Co. could — thanks to stipulations of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement — export cars to the U.S. from a planned manufacturing facility in Mexico without being subject to tariffs.

The company has said it is focused on selling in Mexico, though many auto industry veterans have said Chinese companies are eager to access the lucrative U.S. market.

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