China tariffs will keep America safe

China tariffs will keep America safe
© Getty Images

It is no secret that China often deploys unfair tactics to gain an upper hand in the global economy. Less obvious, however, is the impact its trade practices have on U.S. national security. When our critical industries are undermined, we lose control of the destiny of our nation. It is more than a mere market concern. We depend on technology, machinery and a robust system of intellectual property protections to support our national security. When we allow foreign states to interfere we risk that security.

In April, the U.S. Trade Representative released a proposed list of Chinese products that could face additional tariffs, most notably those in the aerospace, information technology, rail, robotics, engineering and machinery industries. This is not just a welcome step. It is one that is imperative for the security of our nation.

The list identifies 1,300 products, many of which cover industries that are essential to our nation’s critical infrastructure and national security. Take, for example, America’s rail system. The U.S. Trade Representative has rightly included finished component parts of transit and freight railcars in its list of products that will be subject to a 25 percent tariff.

Some of the most significant Chinese activity has targeted the rail manufacturing sector. The “Made in China 2025” initiative lists railroads as one of 10 strategic industries it intends to overtake in the next decade, using a range of subsidies, public financing, and other government resources to advance its state-owned companies in the sector.

As part of this strategic plan, the Chinese state-owned conglomerate CRRC is actively underbidding American competitors by using government financing to unfairly lower its costs and import their own finished steel and rail products into the United States, making it impossible for its competition to compete on a level playing field.

It has already won contracts to supply “Made in China” railcars for the Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia metro systems, and is now eying future contracts in cities like Atlanta and Washington. If this continues, Chinese efforts will eventually force U.S. companies out of business, decimating our domestic manufacturing and industrial base. Without a vibrant U.S. manufacturing sector, we will become dependent on foreign nations for expertise and equipment, putting both our national security and hundreds of thousands of American jobs at risk.

It is only a matter of time before CRRC goes after American freight equipment companies as well. A vital component of our national security, railroads connects our country. From rural communities to urban areas to seaports and government installations, railroads not only serve as the primary mode of transport for an array of key products and commodities, but they also regularly transport U.S. military equipment, hazardous nuclear waste and toxic chemicals.

With China’s foray into freight manufacturing comes an added cyber risk. Railcars with integrated cyber technology assembled in China brought directly to American railroads effectively hands the keys to sensitive materials and technologies to a foreign power. The national security implications of the U.S. government being forced to rely on Chinese manufactured railcars to mobilize in a national emergency is evident.

As it stands, the U.S. Trade Representative’s list of products targets many rail components, but more should be considered. Fully completed freight railcars are missing from the list, potentially allowing CRRC to bypass new tariffs by shifting final assembly operations to China. It is imperative these are added to ensure freight rail remains secure. It is also imperative that we retain the technology to improve our rail system in the future. Loss of control to foreign entities, many of which do not share our interests, will eliminate our domestic research and development.

Sadly, we have already seen this same story play out in other countries. It took less than a decade after entering Australia for CRRC to wipe out that nation’s once thriving domestic rail manufacturing industry. The European Union and Israel have recognized this threat. They are exploring and enacting policies which support their domestic manufacturing and production sectors. It is time we did as well.

The Trump administration’s tariffs under Section 301 are a vital step for protecting our critical industries and infrastructure from an evolving threat. As these proposed tariffs are reviewed, it is of the utmost importance that rail and the critical industries which support it are kept close to mind. Our nation’s security depends on it.

Brigadier General John Adams retired from the U.S. Army in 2007. He is president of Guardian Six Consulting and a national security adviser to the Rail Security Alliance. He is the author of “Remaking American Security.”