- - Thursday, June 25, 2020

Although many Americans continue to see Russia as the United States’ greatest foreign policy challenge, I believe the Communist Party of China (CCP) poses a far greater threat to our national security in the long run. Over the last decade, the Chinese government has ramped up its espionage efforts, predatory economic practices and strategic technology development in an attempt to directly challenge America’s status as a global superpower. 

The United States has sounded the alarm on China’s Belt and Road Initiative investments in Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe, but we have largely turned a blind eye to China’s nefarious activities in our own backyard. Congress enacted important enhancements to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and our export controls in 2018, but we must do more to prevent China from infiltrating our critical infrastructure systems and supply chains.

To get a better sense of the seriousness of this threat, look no further than the disastrous impact of allowing the China Railway Rolling Stock Corp. (CRRC) to enter the U.S. market. CRRC, which has used its CCP financial backing to become the world’s largest rail-car producer, has been undercutting other passenger and freight rail-car manufacturers with unfairly low bids for projects across the United States.

Beyond making it impossible for American and other companies to compete, CRRC’s infiltration of our rail transportation infrastructure comes with serious counterintelligence and privacy consequences given the high-tech nature of new rail cars.

What’s worse is that many of the transit agencies were using taxpayer dollars to do business with the CRRC, meaning we were subsidizing the CCP’s efforts to spy on us and put American companies out of business. Thankfully, lawmakers took note and passed legislation prohibiting the use of federal funds for the purchase of rail cars and buses from CCP-owned, controlled or subsidized companies and requiring transit agencies to adhere to cybersecurity guidelines in future procurements. 

Unfortunately, the CCP is not just targeting our rail infrastructure, but has also turned its focus to our aviation industry. Over the past few years, CIMC-Tianda, a Chinese-owned company convicted of industrial espionage in federal court, has repeatedly tried to partner with major U.S. transportation hubs, including Houston, Dallas, Miami and Boston, to sell its airplane passenger boarding bridges.

Like rail cars, passenger boarding bridges increasingly feature technologies, such as facial recognition, with serious national security implications that necessitate greater scrutiny of foreign investment. Furthermore, if we allow CIMC-Tianda into our aviation supply chain, we can be sure that, like CRRC, they will undercut domestic producers at every turn in hopes that these American companies will eventually be forced to close shop.

With Americans, domestic companies and major airports at risk, I teamed up with my fellow Texans, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Marc Veasey, to introduce the Airport Infrastructure Resources (AIR) Security Act. This critical legislation will ensure our hard-earned taxpayer dollars are not used to purchase passenger boarding bridges from companies that have previously violated intellectual property (IP) rights, as nearly all CCP-affiliated companies have, and are simply looking for yet another opportunity to put American companies out of business and steal from and spy on the American people.

If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has called attention to China’s relentlessness and the need for America to secure its supply chains and critical infrastructure. On top of downplaying the severity of the virus, CCP leaders instituted new policies that restricted companies, such as 3M and Honeywell, from distributing much needed personal protective equipment (PPE) to the United States without prior approval. Chinese officials used these policies to hoard respirators, masks, gloves and other PPE equipment, all while putting on a facade of global unity. 

As we continue to integrate technology into our infrastructure, we must be wary of and resilient against attempts by China to infiltrate critical systems and carry out espionage and IP theft. After the last few months, we would be fools to think the CCP would not weaponize access to our critical infrastructure against us. We simply cannot afford for China to dominate our transportation supply chains the way we have empowered it to control PPE and pharmaceutical ingredients.

Given the financial uncertainty facing many industries and risk that struggling American companies will be snapped up by opportunistic Chinese ones, I believe we must be especially vigilant. I applaud the president for his recent executive order, which will further protect the United States from IP and technology theft. Nevertheless, we must continue to implement additional safeguards in the months to come. Passing the AIR Security Act would a good place to start.

• Ron Wright is a Republican U.S. representative from Texas. 

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