In recent years, tensions between the United States and China have introduced new challenges—especially related to economic and defense issues. China is a major trading partner for the United States but it is also developing its military capabilities, which poses challenges to the U.S. military. Additionally, foreign students and scholars—nearly a third of whom are from China—have made substantial contributions to university research efforts and are involved in developing many of the nation’s leading-edge civilian and defense-related technologies. However, there is a concern that some foreign students and scholars will "export" sensitive information to their home countries, which may be hostile to U.S. interests.
Federal agencies could improve how they address these issues.
- The President placed tariffs on some imports of steel and aluminum products from China (and other countries) in 2018. The Department of Commerce can exclude some products from these tariffs in certain circumstances. However, Commerce rejected thousands of requests because companies made errors in their applications, did not decide most of the requests in a timely manner, and did not document the results from any reviews of the tariffs' impacts. Commerce made changes to its procedures for deciding such requests, but it did not update its public guidance to reflect these changes.
- The Departments of State and Commerce share guidance with exporters, including universities, to help them comply with export control regulations and safeguard controlled data and technologies. However, State’s guidance doesn’t address issues most relevant to universities. Enforcement agencies involved in addressing threats to university research have underscored the importance of education and outreach, but their efforts to target outreach by identifying at-risk universities have been limited. Additionally, conflict of interest policies require researchers to disclose information that may indicate potential conflicts and help to address potential threats. However, federal grant-making agencies need to improve such policies to protect U.S. research from undue foreign influence.
Physical Security Mechanisms Selected Universities Employ to Safeguard Export-Controlled Items
- Across the world, millions of adults and children are forced into labor or service, raising humanitarian and economic concerns. Importing products made by forced labor is banned in the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) monitors and takes civil enforcement actions to prevent goods made by forced labor from entering the country. Most of the investigations and actions taken related to forced labor have focused on goods manufactured in China. And although CBP has increased enforcement efforts to address forced labor, it hasn’t determined if it has enough staff with the right skills.
- Ensuring the safety of food has become increasingly complicated due to globalization. For example, China was the leading exporter of seafood to the United States in 2017—and farmed fish (from China and from other countries) may be treated with antibiotics and other drugs that can leave harmful residues in seafood. Federal agencies could improve how they address this issue, such as by requiring foreign governments to do more testing for these drug residues.
- China was also one of the countries with the most establishments manufacturing drugs (including drugs for treating COVID-19) for the U.S. market in 2021. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspects foreign and domestic drug manufacturers to ensure drug safety and effectiveness. But FDA temporarily postponed almost all inspections of foreign manufacturing establishments in March 2020 due to COVID-19. While the agency resumed some inspections in China and other countries, it faced an inspection backlog resulting from the postponement. Further, FDA has experienced vacancies within its inspection workforce, including among staff in its office in China. Reduced foreign inspections removes a critical source of information about the quality of drugs manufactured for the U.S. market.
The 10 countries with the most foreign drug establishments manufacturing drugs for the U.S. market as of June 2021
- The 2022 National Defense Strategy prioritizes deterring aggression from China—the most consequential strategic competitor—in the Indo-Pacific. China has transformed what was an obsolete military into one that can challenge the U.S. military across the spectrum of conventional and unconventional capabilities. There are a number of actions that DOD could take to better address challenges with China—such as strengthening cybersecurity and addressing sailor fatigue.
Export Controls: Enforcement Agencies Should Better Leverage Information to Target Efforts Involving U.S. Universities
National Security Snapshot: Challenges Facing DOD in Strategic Competition with China
Drug Safety: FDA Should Take Additional Steps to Improve Its Foreign Inspection Program
U.S.-China Trade: USTR Should Fully Document Internal Procedures for Making Tariff Exclusion and Extension Decisions
Federal Research: Agencies Need to Enhance Policies to Address Foreign Influence
Forced Labor Imports: DHS Increased Resources and Enforcement Efforts, but Needs to Improve Workforce Planning and Monitoring
Intellectual Property: CBP Has Taken Steps to Combat Counterfeit Goods in Small Packages but Could Streamline Enforcement
Steel and Aluminum Tariffs: Commerce Should Improve Its Exclusion Request Process and Economic Impact Reviews
Export Controls: State and Commerce Should Improve Guidance and Outreach to Address University-Specific Compliance Issues
Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States: Treasury Should Coordinate Assessments of Resources Needed to Address Increased Workload