, , , , , , , , , , , ,

As Americans have embroiled themselves in a heated debate over how adequate screening procedures are for refugees from the war-torn Middle East, some big, possibly dangerous holes in another key security government screening system may have opened wide – the inter-agency process for vetting proposed foreign takeovers of or investments in U.S. companies when the deals have national security implications.

According to a valuable report by the tech industry publication EE Times, China has proposed buying outright or acquiring important stakes in no less than five major American technology firms this year alone. One such bid, for leading memory chip maker Micron, has been squashed – at least for now – in part because of likely opposition from the inter-agency group, known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Two more are awaiting CFIUS analysis. The first is the purchase of a 15 percent stake in hard disk drive manufacturer Western Digital by the investment arm of China’s government-controlled Tsinghua University. The second is Hewlett Packard’s sale to the same Chinese entity of its telecommunications hardware, server, storage, and technical services assets in China.

Judging from CFIUS’ decisions in two previous cases, though, the Chinese government – and its U.S. partners-to-be – have little reason for concern. For Washington has approved the sale of Omnivision to a Chinese investment consortium, and Integrated Silicon Solutions Inc. to similar buyers. Omnivision makes image sensors important for semiconductor design and manufacturing, while Integrated Silicon Solutions is a fabless memory chip producer. Apparently CFIUS saw no significant national security potential in either transaction, even though semiconductors are vital building blocks of all advanced weapons systems, and even though all Chinese investors prominent enough to bid for such key foreign assets are either directly or indirectly controlled by Beijing.

In addition, another tech publication has reported that CFIUS is looking into the sale to yet another group of Chinese investors of Philips’ LED lighting division, including “a broad patent portfolio of more than 600 patent families related to LED manufacturing and automotive lighting.” And EE Times has recently explained why financially struggling American communications chip giant Qualcomm could be China’s next target.

More ominously, the Tsinghua investment arm has announced intentions to spend $47 billion over the next five years to build up China’s tech sector by purchasing foreign companies and knowhow, and that America’s tech sector is its top target. So it looks like, at the least, CFIUS will be kept pretty busy going forward. Then again, since prospective foreign buyers aren’t legally obligated to notify CFIUS of their intentions, who’s to say?