By Howard Buskirk, originally published in Communications Daily on TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2021.

FCC’s China Policy Seen Building on Trump’s, Becoming More Targeted

The Biden administration is finding its way on China policy. At the FCC, the approach taken on supply chain security issues under acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel may be consistent with actions in the past administration, we are told. The new FCC is likely to put more emphasis on enforcement and could expand the focus beyond China. Rosenworcel was an early proponent of open radio access networks, and ORAN is likely to get early focus, stakeholders said.

Don’t expect “major changes on policy or strategy,” said former Commissioner Mike O’Rielly. “Instead, we’re likely to see slight to medium movement on the tactics and maneuvers used against such threats. These may not necessarily be more aggressive but would seem more coordinated and smooth.” Others agreed.

An FCC spokesperson didn’t comment. The approach will be “more targeted” under Rosenworcel, “but this has been bipartisan and I don’t expect a lot of change,” an FCC official said.

Rosenworcel offered “sort of broad, rather than unequivocal support” on past actions on China, said Phillips Lytle’s Joel Thayer. Policy will probably be a little different than it was under past Chairman Ajit Pai, he said. That could mean “being more aggressive, because she’s more on the consumer protection side of things,” he said. Rosenworcel teed up her first supply chain security item for the Feb. 17 commissioners’ meeting. She criticized the Trump administration for not being tough enough.

“The Biden administration may well develop a more targeted policy,” said Robert Ross, Boston College professor of political science. Targeting Chinese apps like Ant Group’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat, as happened under President Donald Trump, “makes little sense from a national security perspective or from a competitive perspective, but as a punitive policy of simply containment, it does challenge U.S. ability to negotiate potentially manageable issues in U.S.-China relations,” Ross said: Targeted policy would “identify those Chinese companies that either affect national security technologies or which challenge major U.S. industries due to Chinese unfair trade practices.”

said the American Enterprise Institute’s Zack Cooper. The focus will be on using “more targeted measures to incentivize changes in behavior from malign actors,” he said: This will likely mean “a focus on a ‘small yard, high fence’ model in which the United States will protect a smaller number of critical industries but will do so more actively in those priority areas.”

This administration will act similarly to the last administration, agreed Melissa Newman, Telecommunications Industry Association vice president-government affairs. “This issue has had bipartisan support at the FCC, and the commissioners have been very vocal about the critical role the FCC plays in ensuring that American networks are secure.” That view was reinforced by commerce secretary nominee Gina Raimondo at her confirmation hearing last week and by the White House press secretary’s comments on how some Chinese suppliers are a security threat, Newman said: “Given this early input from the new administration, and based on continuing the listening sessions from NTIA focusing on securing 5G from untrusted vendors, we expect to see the main forces of this effort continue, even if the administration takes a different, more holistic approach.”

“Early signs suggest” that under President Joe Biden, the U.S. will continue “the previous administration’s policy, albeit with modifications of approaches,” said Zhiqun Zhu, chair of Bucknell University’s Department of International Relations. He said foreign policy officials’ comments indicate “they continue to view China as a strategic competitor, and they apparently prefer punitive measures to cooperation when dealing with challenges from China, which does not bode well for the bilateral relationship in the next four years.”