© Reuters. Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at the Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, USA, September 29, 2021. Tom Williams / Pool via REUTERS / Files
By Alexandra Alper and Karen Freifeld
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican Senator Tom Cotton is delaying a vote to confirm Alan Estévez as undersecretary for Industry and Security at the US Department of Commerce until he gets answers to tough questions about technology exports to China.
In a letter dated October 14 and seen by Reuters, Cotton asks Estévez to commit to tightening US restrictions on the export of semiconductor software and technology to China and speeding up the implementation of new rules to tighten export controls. advanced technologies.
The letter, also signed by Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, asks Estévez to consider extending a Trump administration rule, which currently only applies to Huawei, to blacklisted Chinese companies with military ties or violations. of human rights. That rule further restricted the Chinese telecommunications giant’s access to advanced semiconductor chips.
The job at the Commerce Department oversees exports to all countries, but decisions about exports of cutting-edge technology to China have given the position tremendous power over Chinese companies that rely on American technology in recent years.
The Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Many industry observers saw the election of Estévez, a former Defense Department official with a limited track record in China, as a safe bet.
But Cotton, or any other senator, can delay a fast-track confirmation process that requires the consent of all 100 senators.
Since the Republican has not had a chance to question the nominee, he is pausing the confirmation process until he receives answers to the questions posed in the letter, a Cotton staff member said.
Republicans are not the only ones supporting Estévez’s nomination. Democratic Senator Bob Menéndez spoke out against Estévez when the Senate Banking Committee took his confirmation and also opposes expediting a full final vote in the Senate.
His opposition stems from the former Pentagon official’s response to questions about the return of supervision of US firearms exports to the State Department.
“I was not satisfied with Mr. Estevez’s non-responses on whether the Biden administration planned to fulfill President Biden’s campaign promise and ultimately reverse the dangerous removal of the Trump administration’s supervisory authority on firearms sales in the United States. States from the State Department’s Munitions List to the Department of Commerce. Department, “Menendez said in a statement.
The Trump administration transferred jurisdiction over exports of semi-automatic pistols, assault rifles and related firearms from the state to the less restrictive Trade Control List, which also removed Congressional review for such sales.
Estevez will be in good company. Other Biden nominees are being held back by Senator Ted Cruz, who is using the process to stop a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, say White House officials and Democrats in Congress.
Estévez testified last month before the Senate banking committee, which then voted to advance his candidacy to the full Senate.
During the hearing and under questioning from Hagerty, Estévez said he hoped to keep Huawei on a blacklist unless “things change” and vowed to “look” at Honor, a former Huawei unit, to see if the giant Chinese telecommunications was using the yarn. outside the company to minimize or circumvent their own blacklist designation. Republican senators have asked the Biden administration to blacklist Honor.
In Thursday’s letter, the senators also asked Estévez to say whether he thought Huawei’s global expansion of cloud services posed a data security and privacy issue for the United States, and whether Honor should be included in the Commerce Department’s commercial blacklist.
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