America’s Next Security Threat From China

Trade experts Emily Benson and Catharine Mouradian from the Project on Trade and Technology at the Center for Strategic and International Studies have issued a concerning warning about China’s laser weapon technology, emphasizing its threat to America’s national security.

At the core of this growing concern is Lidar, a laser-based radar crucial for autonomous systems and robotics. Benson and Mouradian highlight that this technology, unlike many others, is currently not subject to U.S. export controls or government procurement restrictions. This raises concerns about its potential application in spying and cyberattacks.

In an opinion piece for the Hill, the experts stated, “U.S. firms claim that Chinese LiDAR poses imminent security risks, a claim that Chinese firms dispute.” Chinese LiDAR producers, such as Hesai, contend that their automotive LiDAR equipment, which they assert cannot be accessed by the Chinese government, poses no threat as it does not connect to the internet.

However, beyond the debate on data security, Benson and Mouradian underscore a more pressing concern—the risk of foreign dominance over U.S. producers, which could potentially jeopardize the entire U.S. industry. The House Select Committee has urged top officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, to investigate Chinese lidar manufacturers and protect U.S. tech secrets.

As the demand for lidar continues to soar due to smart-city infrastructure, robotaxis, and assisted-driving features, it has become a lucrative $2 billion market, according to Emergen Research. Benson and Mouradian stress that an inability to source domestic Lidar could leave the U.S. reliant on potentially less secure foreign products, increasing the risk of weaponization or supply disruptions.

To mitigate these risks, the experts propose “initiating a new Section 301 investigation that would subject additional LiDAR technologies to tariff measures.” They argue that urgent measures are necessary to bolster American innovation in this crucial technology sector, ensuring the competitiveness of the U.S. Lidar industry and safeguarding national security.