Federal funding for Chinese buses risks our national security

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China is America’s single largest strategic rival, working to undermine U.S. authority on the global stage by taking control of a variety of critical emerging industries — the electric vehicle (EV) industry in particular. Beijing has declared capturing the EV supply chain to be a strategic priority, but Congress has a chance to counter this threat in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It must seize this opportunity.

As states and cities nationwide search for ways to reduce operating costs and meet emissions goals, falling battery costs in tandem with federal programs that defray purchase prices have made electric buses an attractive option. This has pushed electric buses to the forefront of a wider EV switch that is estimated to be worth up to $420 billion worldwide as early as 2025.

However, China is alive to the opportunity that the manufacture and sale of electric buses will have on the wider EV market, and has wasted little time in scaling up its manufacturing and market ambitions. There are already 421,000 electric buses in China, compared to just 300 in the United States.

As outlined in its “Made in China 2025 strategy,” Beijing is intent on capturing the entire EV supply chain for global strategic gain, as owning the next generation of transportation technology will give them significant economic and foreign policy leverage for generations to come. 

To achieve this, China has spent years — and approximately $60 billion dollars — subsidizing its domestic companies in order to capture overseas markets while the EV industry is still developing, helping Chinese companies to submit bids for major contracts that are as much as $20 million cheaper than its North American competitors.

If we allow transit agencies to use federal funds to buy Chinese electric buses, then these companies are in effect being subsidized twice. What’s worse is that we would be actively assisting Beijing in its goal of U.S. EV dominance, by allowing them to build their EV industry and cement it in first place with American taxpayer dollars. 

Permitting federal funding for transit agencies to buy Chinese electric buses would support Beijing’s objectives and place the United States at significant economic and national security risk. Our current transportation system is 92 percent dependent on oil: A volatile and fungible commodity, in which a disruption anywhere affects prices everywhere — regardless of how much the United States produces.

As a result, if China achieves its goal of capturing the EV supply chain, we risk switching our reliance on a volatile oil market to a dependence on Chinese EVs and batteries for our future transportation needs.

Fortunately, the NDAA can help us counter China’s strategy, as it contains provisions introduced in the House by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) and in the Senate by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) to prevent the expenditure of federal funds by transit agencies to buy Chinese rail cars or buses.

But while the Senate version includes the bus provision, the House version limited the restriction solely to rail rolling stock. This must be amended, and the House must adopt the Senate’s electric bus provision. 

The switch from a petroleum past to an electrified future is handing the United States an opportunity to own its transportation future. However, we will only have one attempt to realize this chance. If we do not counter China’s EV ambitions now, we risk losing this golden opportunity to bolster our energy security — and place our transportation needs for the foreseeable future into the hands of our greatest strategic rivals.

Dennis Blair is the former director of National Intelligence and commander in chief, U.S. Pacific Command.

James Conway is the 34th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. 

John Handy is the former commander of U.S. Transportation Command.

All three are members of the Energy Security Leadership Council, a project of Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to reducing U.S. oil dependence as an economic and national security priority.

Tags China Dennis Blair Electric vehicles Energy Harley Rouda James Conway John Handy oil and gas Tammy Baldwin

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