China’s Growing Dominance in LiDAR Technology Might Threaten US National Security, Lawmakers Warn

‘LiDAR is a critical technology used in autonomous systems and robotics but is currently not subject to U.S. export controls.’
China’s Growing Dominance in LiDAR Technology Might Threaten US National Security, Lawmakers Warn
Data from LiDAR, radar, cameras, and GPS units are seen inside a car equipped with using PolySync autonomy system development for creating and deploying driverless vehicles being demonstrated during the four-day auto trade show AutoMobility LA at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles on Nov. 17, 2016. (David McNew/Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is requesting that the Biden administration investigate all Chinese light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology companies over national security concerns.

“LiDAR is a critical technology used in autonomous systems and robotics but is currently not subject to U.S. export controls or government procurement restrictions,” the 20 lawmakers wrote in a Nov. 28 letter addressed to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

The group, led by House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and ranking Democrat member Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), raised concerns over the rapid expansion of Chinese business in the LiDAR market, saying it poses significant threats to the U.S. military, autonomous systems, robotics, and other critical infrastructures.

LiDAR is a remote sensing technology that uses laser light to scan and map the surrounding environment. This crucial technology is used in civilian and military applications, making it a dual-use.

“Given the importance of LiDAR, it is crucial to ensure U.S. technology used in foreign LiDAR systems are not being leveraged by our adversaries to create autonomous military vehicles and weapons,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Urgent action is also needed to stop LiDAR produced by state-backed entities from foreign adversary countries to proliferate in the U.S. market or gain access to U.S. capital markets or U.S. critical infrastructure systems.”

The lawmakers warned that Beijing “considers LiDAR a strategic technology and has called for its development for use in national security and in military industries.”

“Up until 2018, the global LiDAR market was dominated by U.S. companies, but PRC LiDAR companies are advancing quickly due to the support of CCP industrial policies, including tariffs and subsidies,” they said, referring to China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China. The lawmakers cited an example of China’s LiDAR firm Hesai Technology, which now has 47 percent of the global market share of the emerging technology.

Notably, the lawmakers warned that “because the U.S. government currently has no security requirements for the procurement of LiDAR technology, there is a significant risk that PRC-made LiDAR are already present in U.S. defense systems and platforms that the U.S. military and its contractors are unaware of.”

The lawmakers called on the three secretaries to investigate the China LiDAR industry and identify entities to include in their restricted lists. They also urged these departments to assess “what specific U.S. technologies should be subject to export controls to China.”

Officials at the Commerce, Treasury, and Defense departments didn’t respond by press time to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.

Preferential Treatment From Regime

In recent years, the Chinese communist regime increasingly focused more on this emerging technology. In 2020, Beijing classified LiDAR technology as a strategic emerging industry and invested heavily in the sector.
This industry is projected to expand rapidly. The global automotive LiDAR market is expected to grow to nearly $4.5 billion in 2028, from about $317 million in 2022, according to an industry report from Yole Group.
China’s LiDAR firms greatly benefit from preferential treatment under the CCP’s industrial policies including from subsidies, market protections, and general preferences, according to an August Congressional Research Service report.

“While U.S. and foreign firms have led the LiDAR market with advanced research capabilities and intellectual properties, PRC firms are poised to quickly take a leadership position,” the report reads. “PRC industrial policies, acquisitions of U.S. and foreign firms and intellectual properties, and corporate partnerships have already rapidly enhanced PRC firms’ position in the LiDAR market, particularly in automotive LiDAR.”

In 2020, Beijing started backing sectors that use LiDAR technology. Since 2022, the regime has promoted foreign investment in its domestic LiDAR market to boost its capabilities. It has also added LiDAR to export control.

The report warned: “[China’s] LiDAR firms are using U.S. capital markets to secure financing, enter the U.S. market, negotiate partnerships, and acquire U.S. technology. In 2022, CITIC, a [China] state investment arm, undertook a $1.4 billion reverse merger with the U.S. firm Quanergy Systems.”

China also has cooperated with U.S. LiDAR research. For example, the report mentioned connections between Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute’s photonics and the Sensor & Actuator Center and Marvell Nanofabrication Lab at the University of California–Berkeley.

“Chinese companies have also been accused of unlawfully obtaining and using foreign intellectual properties,” the report reads. “These combined actions have resulted in a U.S. LiDAR market that is now at risk of foreign takeover.”

Aaron Pan is a reporter covering China and U.S. news. He graduated with a master's degree in finance from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
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