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Photonics Industry Watches Warily for China Export Policy Changes

Photonics Spectra
May 1999
Robert C. Pini

Findings from the Cox Report, a six-month congressional investigation into the transfers of sensitive technology to China, may have broad implications for photonics companies that export products, affecting their hiring practices, technology transfer and export of dual-use items.

The reportedly evenhanded bipartisan conclusion was that the export regime of dual-use goods classification has allowed the transfer of militarily sensitive technology to the People's Republic of China. A dual-use product has both civilian and military uses, and most lasers and electro-optics fall into that classification, said Breck Hitz, executive director of the Laser & Electro-Optics Manufacturers' Association in Pacifica, Calif.

Crystals cut off?

Amid concerns of Chinese espionage and national security lapses, the release of the report stirred anxiety about exactly how much damage has been done. Although full implications remained unknown at press time, select committee recommendations leaked to the public in February sought to tighten security and administrative oversight of export controls.

The Optical Society of America in Washington advised members in its corporate associates letter: "Companies that rely heavily on the import of crystals and other optoelectronics technology from China may be precluded from using such products." It also warned that firms seeking Chinese markets for electro-optical and optical products may face new restrictions or even outright bans on such sales.

Committee chairman Christopher Cox profiled the thrust of the report in the San Jose Mercury News in California, calling for "a new 'fast track' for most items, while focusing greater resources and expertise" on sensitive technologies.

Meanwhile, exporters need to "get back to export-controls basics" to protect themselves, said Don Weadon, a Washington-based photonics lawyer and export-control expert. "For the average small company, this [report] isn't necessarily going to change their lives."

Weadon advises photonics companies to consult with the Bureau of Export Administration to determine the export classification of their products. Employees who are US-born citizens, are naturalized or hold an I-94 (green card) can work with controlled technology, Weadon said. But those on an H1B visa from certain nations, such as China and Russia, may require an export license before starting employment or seeing the controlled technology.

Companies should also monitor rules changes. The related Federal Register is found at

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