On August 9, President Joe Biden signed a long-anticipated Executive Order to restrict US outbound financial investments in a “narrow set of technologies” in “countries of concern” – China including the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong and the Special Administrative Region of Macau. The Order covers three industries: semiconductors and microelectronics, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence. This idea of limiting outbound investment came up during the Trump Administration as part of The Foreign Investment Review Risk Modernization Act of 2018, but was removed from the bill due to pressure from the business sector. There followed a series of measures against China focused on the tightening of export controls. With its embrace of restrictions on outbound investment, the new Executive Order constitutes a stunning reversal of US policy, which for decades has pressed coercively for open cross-border investment. Thus, it offers another sign that the US is turning away from freedom of investment and trade and toward digital protectionism.
The new rules mostly target US venture capital, private equity and joint venture investment, the key drivers of the US/China integration that nurtured the expansion of the Chinese internet sector even as they also enriched US investors. With the current geopolitical tension, US venture capital investment into China has already dropped to a 10-year low at $1.3 billion, down from a high of $14.4 billion in 2018. Private equity plummeted to $ 1.4 billion in the first half of 2023 from a peak $48.48 billion in 2021. It is an open question whether the Executive Order will be sufficient to choke off China’s tech power and Chinese tech start-ups from US capital;however, this move is sure to intensify the existing geopolitical competition and further divide the two largest global economies.
The Biden administration has stated that “national security risk” is the reason behind the measures, emphasizing that these are “narrowly targeted actions to protect our national security.” It is clear, however, that the rationale is economic as well as military. It is intended to further contain and retard China’s tech power in advanced technology and, reciprocally, to make more room for the US’s own market and strategic interests in this key field.