U.S. Senate panel OKs bill to tighten foreign investment oversight

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By Reuters
U.S. Senate panel OKs bill to tighten foreign investment oversight

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Banking Committee voted on Tuesday to approve a bill that would tighten oversight of foreign investment to slow China’s acquisition of sensitive U.S. technology.

The House Committee on Financial Services is slated to consider a version of the measure on Tuesday.

The two chambers began the process in November with identical bills to expand the clout of the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, which reviews foreign investment to ensure it does not compromise national security.

Congress is considering the bills to address Defense Department concerns that U.S. soldiers could some day face on a battlefield U.S. technology like robotics or drones that had been acquired by foreign adversaries.

The Senate committee approved removing from the bill a section that would require CFIUS to review joint ventures that could lead to technology transfer, a process that would delay transactions. The approved bill also defines passive investments, which CFIUS normally considers approvable.

The House Financial Services Committee is expected to consider similar amendments on Tuesday.

Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and lead sponsor of the legislation, told reporters it would be “ideal” to attach CFIUS to the defence authorization bill or some other “must-pass” legislation.

“What we need to do is elevate everybody’s understanding of what China’s strategic long-term goals are and they are to dominate the United States economically and militarily,” said Cornyn. “They’ve got a very clear strategy for doing that and we need to wake up to that and make sure we’re responding in kind.”

The Senate Banking Committee voted to tack onto the bill a measure that would make it more difficult for the president to modify penalties on Chinese telecommunications companies such as ZTE Corp <000063.SZ>.

U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern that President Donald Trump would ease tough penalties on ZTE, saying the United States should not bow to pressure from Beijing to help the smartphone maker.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Richard Chang)