Features
6 Mar 24

Biden calls Chinese EVs “security risk”

U.S. president Joe Biden has said that the connected technology in Chinese EVs makes them a national security risk, and has ordered an investigation. The measure could trigger the EU to step up its own measures against the Chinese-made EVs now flooding its markets. 

“These (Chinese EVs) are connected to our phones, to navigation systems, to critical infrastructure, and to the companies that made them”, Mr Biden said in a statement on 29 February. 

Remotely accessed

He went on to say that connected EVs made in China “could collect sensitive data about our citizens and our infrastructure and send this data back to the People’s Republic of China,” while the cars themselves “could be remotely accessed or disabled.”

The president concluded that “China is determined to dominate the future of the auto market, including by using unfair practices. China’s policies could flood our market with its vehicles, posing risks to our national security. I’m not going to let that happen on my watch.”

That is why Biden ordered the Commerce Department to open an investigation into the security threats allegedly posed by the technology embedded in Chinese-made EVs. The investigation did not immediately lead to further restrictions on Chinese EVs. High tariffs already significantly limit their presence on the U.S. market. 

Related reasons

National security is the explicit reason for Biden’s statement, and for the investigation. There are a few others. All are related.

Firstly, there’s politics. Mr Biden and Donald Trump, his likely opponent in November’s presidential election, have been trying to outdo each other in anti-China rhetoric. On top of that, Mr Trump – never a fan of climate measures – accuses Mr Biden of forcing Americans into EVs. 

Secondly, there’s economics. The automotive industry, its subsidiaries and the workers they employ all add up to an important part of the U.S. economy. By taking action against a major competitor, Mr Biden is making a show of protecting those stakeholders against the market being flooded by (cheaper) Chinese EVs, thus trying to assure himself of their support in November. 

And finally, there’s geopolitics. The ongoing strife between China and the U.S. has been described as the ‘Second Cold War’. For now, that conflict is technological in nature. China seeks access to high-tech components like the advanced microprocessors made mainly in Taiwan, and the U.S. has sought to restrict that access. Similarly, the U.S. has limited Chinese access to AI and to funding for technological investments. Keeping Chinese connected vehicles out of the U.S. could be seen as another front in that technological war. 

Executive order

Further evidence of that broader technological context came a day before Mr Biden ordered the investigation, when he signed an executive order to limit the sale of U.S. personal data (including biometric data, financial data, personal health, and geolocation data) to six countries of concern, including Russia and China. 

Still, administration officials insist the investigation is motivated by national security concerns: What if a foreign government – China, not to mention its name – could access vehicle data to compromise national security and personal privacy in the U.S.? As an example, they said the Chinese software in those EVs could be used to track where Americans drove and charged their cars, and even what music or podcasts they listened to while driving. 

Competition rules

It is as yet unclear how far the Biden administration will go to keep Chinese EVs out of the U.S. market. The measure could, however, inspire EU policymakers and legislators to go further than they have in their efforts to stop Chinese EVs flooding the European market. 

EU lawmakers have already launched an investigation into Chinese state subsidies for BEVs made in China, which would potentially undercut EU competition rules, but the security angle has not yet been explored.

Image: Then presidential candidate Joe Biden in 2020, taking a spin in his 1967 Corvette Stingray. Definitely no Chinese software in that one. 
Credit: Biden for president, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED

Authored by: Frank Jacobs