Democrats, Corporations Make 'Made in America' a Trojan Horse for China | Opinion

"Made in America. I mean it." Those are strong words, and they would be admirable if they were true. Unfortunately, they're just a talking point for President Joe Biden and many of our nation's corporations. When push comes to shove, they will trade their integrity—and our country's resiliency—for the convenience of Chinese manufacturing. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of electric vehicles.

Just look at the U.S. Department of Transportation, which waived federal regulations to permit the purchase of Chinese-made electric vehicle chargers. That waiver, which came on the Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend, undermines the White House's pledge to "ensure the future is Made in America by all of America's workers." It also means our nationwide electric vehicle grid will be dependent on Chinese technology. Yet the Transportation Department claims its actions are justified by "the public interest"—another failure by Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Meanwhile, Ford is building a plant in Marshall, Michigan, using "'knowledge' and services" from Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL), Beijing's champion battery maker. At the plant, Ford will reportedly license technology from CATL to produce lithium-iron phosphate batteries for electric vehicles. Ford's massive project will bring 2,500 new jobs to Marshall's small, historic farming community, but it will also bring America's greatest geopolitical adversary into the heartland.

When we talk about domestic manufacturing, we do it for three reasons. The most obvious is that we need to bring good jobs back to America. For decades, we allowed dignified work to leave the country. Some jobs went south to Mexico. Others went across the Pacific to China. No matter where they went, they left hollowed-out communities behind. That's why Ford is defending itself by claiming that it's better to use Chinese technology in the U.S. than to manufacture in China.

But the second reason we talk about domestic manufacturing is that we need to build our own technological capacity—and keep it here. Beijing has already announced it will closely scrutinize CATL's deal to block any tech transfers to Ford. Why? Because it's learned how to exploit Americans' hard work and know-how for the Chinese Communist Party's benefit.

Electric car battery manufacturing is a perfect example. The technology Ford seeks to use was invented on this side of the Pacific, thanks to generous federal funding under President Barack Obama. But due to inadequate demand, the U.S. firm attempting to commercialize the tech—A123—was forced to declare bankruptcy. When a Chinese conglomerate swept in to buy A123 at a bargain price, the Obama administration gave the transaction its explicit blessing. A decade later, the result is clear: Chinese domination of the industry.

Ford factory announcement
ROMULUS, MI - FEBRUARY 13: Ford CEO Jim Farley announces at a press conference that Ford Motor Company will be partnering with the worlds largest battery company, a China-based company called Contemporary Amperex Technology, to create an electric-vehicle battery plant in Marshall, Michigan, on February 13, 2023 in Romulus, Michigan. Part of a multi-billion dollar investment, the battery plant will provide approximately 2,500 jobs. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Even that misses the third piece of the puzzle, however, which is that there are huge security risks to using Chinese technology. That was certainly the case with Huawei and the Belt and Road Initiative—just ask Ecuador, Pakistan, or any other country that has made the mistake of buying "Made in China." Should we not expect the same costs from working alongside CATL, the CEO of which is a high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party's "United Front"? This shadowy network is poorly understood, yet it is one of the greatest threats to U.S. interests. Ford is preparing to do business with a man tasked with coopting and neutralizing opposition to the party across the globe.

We cannot afford to be so naïve. That is why I have demanded a commitment from the Biden administration that no tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act will go to Chinese companies—directly or indirectly. And it's why I asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to review the licensing agreement signed by Ford.

We also need to apply greater scrutiny to companies, like Tesla and Volkswagen, that manufacture in China. These same companies source critical minerals from Chinese-run mines in the Congo, where children are trafficked and exploited as slave laborers. Their actions indicate they would rather increase their profit margins than honor the dignity of the human person or defend America's interests, and that should not be encouraged. Yes, it will take time, effort, and resources to build native capabilities and supply chains. But our national security, economic strength, and moral standards demand doing the hard work.

Unfortunately, Democrats do not appear serious about the issue. The Left rejected my plan to prohibit tax credits for electric vehicles made with Chinese parts. Coupled with the fact that Democrats refuse even to abide by their own regulations, it shows they care more about their image as climate warriors than about strengthening the U.S. It also suggests they are afraid to sever ties with Chinese companies that will cut billion-dollar deals with Americans—including President Biden's own son—to gain a monopoly over the Earth's minerals.

It's a shame, because if Democrats and corporations were serious about their newfound economic populism, they would find ground for bipartisan action on a number of issues. Instead, at least as far as electric vehicles are concerned, they have turned "Made in America" into another Trojan horse that Beijing will use to threaten, divide, and outcompete the U.S.

Marco Rubio, a Republican, is the senior U.S. senator from Florida.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.