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 – The United States is opening an investigation into whether Chinese vehicle imports pose national security risks and could impose restrictions due to concerns about “connected” car technology, the White House said on Thursday.

The US Commerce Department probe is needed because vehicles “collect large amounts of sensitive data on their drivers and passengers (and) regularly use their cameras and sensors to record detailed information on US infrastructure,” the White House said.

As vehicles could “be piloted or disabled remotely” the probe will also look at autonomous vehicles.

“China’s policies could flood our market with its vehicles, posing risks to our national security,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “I’m not going to let that happen on my watch.”

White House officials told reporters it was too early to say what action might be taken and said there was no decision on a potential ban or restrictions on connected Chinese vehicles.

Officials told reporters the US government has wide legal powers and could take action with a potentially “large impact”.

Biden called the effort an “unprecedented action to ensure that cars on US roads from countries of concern like China do not undermine our national security.”

There are relatively few Chinese-made light duty vehicles being imported into the United States. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the administration was taking action before they become widespread and “potentially threaten our privacy and national security.”

Chinese EV makers have been counting on Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe as their largest exporting markets. BYD, the world’s largest EV maker by sales, has repeatedly said it has no plan to sell its cars in the US market.

The Chinese foreign ministry didn’t immediately reply to a request from Reuters for comment on Thursday.

Among all vehicles equipped with intelligent sensors, it is unfair to target cars from a specific country and impose restrictions on them exclusively, said Cui Dongshu, secretary general of China Passenger Car Association.

Separately, the Biden administration is considering imposing new tariffs on Chinese-made vehicles and officials face new pressure to restrict Chinese electric vehicle imports from Mexico.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington has repeatedly criticized Biden administration proposals to impose new restrictions on Chinese trade, urging the agency to “stop hyping up the ‘China threat’ theory and its unwarranted suppression of Chinese companies.”

In November, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers raised alarms about Chinese companies collecting and handling sensitive data while testing autonomous vehicles in the United States.

The Commerce Department will seek comments for 60 days and then consider drafting regulations to address concerns. The probe will also seeks details about current US-assembled vehicles including where automakers license software.

The United States previously barred Chinese telecom companies from its market citing concerns about data and designated Huawei and ZTE as threats, requiring US carriers to remove their equipment from US networks.

The White House said China poses significant restrictions on US autos and other foreign autos operating in China. “Why should connected vehicles from China be allowed to operate in our country without safeguards?” Biden said.

China has in recent years strengthened its oversight over data management within the country and most industries must apply for permission before data can be transferred abroad.

In May, authorities tightened data rules for the auto industry and proposed to ban smart vehicles in China from transferring data directly abroad, pushing them instead to use domestic cloud services. – Reuters