Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Bush administration is having trouble getting U.S. allies to go along with its proposals to strengthen restrictions on high-technology exports to China.

Business officials say that without allies’ cooperation, the proposed regulations would hurt U.S. business more than the Chinese because China can obtain the products elsewhere or internally.

At issue are proposals the Commerce Department made in July to tighten restrictions on exports of some high-technology goods to China. Europeans, however, have been “noncommittal” on imposing similar controls, Assistant Commerce Secretary Christopher A. Padilla said Friday.

Mr. Padilla leaves tomorrow for a weeklong trip to China, where he will discuss export controls. He stressed that Europeans, who are not part of a Pacific power, see China “essentially as a market,” while the United States also views China from a security perspective.

He visited Paris, Berlin, The Hague, Stockholm and London a few weeks ago to discuss the controls with European allies.

Eric L. Hirschhorn, a D.C. lawyer with Winston & Strawn who has long experience in export controls policy, compared unilateral controls to “damming half a river,” adding that restrictions previously had been lifted on the technologies involved, so it would be tough to get allies to reimpose the controls.

National Foreign Trade Council President William A. Reinsch said lack of cooperation makes the proposal “fatally flawed” because it allows European and Japanese companies to sell in a market that bars U.S. business.

“It’s exactly the nightmare that drives the exporting community to distraction,” he said.

Paul Freedenberg, a vice president with the Association for Manufacturing Technology, said that without allied cooperation the controls become more symbolic than substantive.

Foreign availability is “an important factor to consider,” Mr. Padilla said, but it is not the “sole determining factor.”

He said the administration will take the concern into account and weigh it against the fact that the government does not want U.S. technology to be used in Chinese weapons systems.

“The United States has security and military interests in the Pacific that are more extensive than other countries,” he said.

Mr. Reinsch said he was not surprised at Europe’s refusal to comply with the proposals, adding that Europeans do not perceive China as an enemy or an adversary, as does the United States.

“There’s one basic geopolitical reality, you know: The missiles are aimed at L.A., they’re not aimed at Berlin or Paris.”

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