Technology

The Agency at the Center of America’s Tech Fight With China

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“When you start cutting off capital profits that can flow into R&D, many of them coming from the huge Chinese market, you really undermine our ability to stay at the tip of the spear in terms of semiconductor innovation,” Mr. Neuffer said.

“The sense of urgency in recent years inclined our leadership to make decisions without reference to what industry thought,” said Daniel H. Rosen, a founding partner of Rhodium Group. “We’re not going to serve the American interests if we don’t consider commercial interests and national security interests at the same time.”

The Biden administration has already run into the political minefield surrounding the bureau. In her confirmation hearing in January, Gina Raimondo, the new secretary of commerce, attracted criticism from Republicans when she declined to commit to keeping Huawei on the bureau’s entity list. Ms. Raimondo later said that she would use the entity list “to its full effect,” and that Huawei and ZTE should be on the list.

With Ms. Raimondo sworn in to her post this month, the Biden administration is considering candidates to lead the Bureau of Industry and Security. It has become a contentious process, a kind of proxy battle among trade advisers, industry groups and lawmakers of both parties for the future of the United States’ tech strategy.

One early contender, Kevin Wolf, a partner in the international trade group at the law firm Akin Gump, has run into resistance from some China hawks in Washington over his industry ties. Mr. Wolf, who was previously assistant secretary at the bureau, issued the sanctions against ZTE. He has consistently argued that restrictions that are unclear and unpredictable can backfire, “harming the very interests they were designed to protect.”

But critics have found fault with his work on behalf of industry since leaving the government, including counseling clients on what is permitted under Mr. Trump’s regulations, and trying to obtain licenses for his clients to supply products to Huawei and S.M.I.C.

Mr. Wolf said that he had merely helped companies understand the new rules, as other export control lawyers do, and that it was the Trump administration that was responsible for creating a new process to grant companies licenses to supply products to listed entities.

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