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  January 27th, 2021 | Written by


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  • Compliance with the recent securities trading ban has proven challenging for the financial community.
  • We do not foresee an imminent reversal of most of the Trump administration’s actions.

This is the fifth in a series of articles by Eversheds Sutherland partners Jeff Bialos and Ginger Faulk explaining the legal and regulatory impacts of certain recent US sanctions and export control actions targeting various Chinese entities. Each article explains the regulatory context of the recent rules and intends to be explanatory in nature.

During a seemingly interminable and challenging transition period, the Trump administration has layered on an array of additional China sanctions. What are the impacts of these actions? What approach is the Biden administration likely to adopt and what changes can we expect? These are the topics that are addressed in this article, the last in this five-part series.

China-related Sanctions since November 6, 2020

Specifically, since November 6, 2020, the Trump administration has:

1. issued an Executive Order banning US persons from trading in the publicly traded securities of more than 35 “Communist Chinese Military Companies;”

2. named no less than 60 Chinese entities to the US Commerce Department Entity List, which establishes a license requirement for nearly all exports to such firms and general presumption of denial for such exports;

3. designated 58 entities as China “Military End Users” under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), which also results in restrictions on a wide range of high-tech exports; and

4. removed Hong Kong as a separate destination from China under the Export Administration Regulations, which removes its preferential treatment for export licensing.

Moreover, during the same period, President Trump signed an executive order blocking transactions with companies that “develop or control” certain Chinese connected mobile and desktop applications and related software – namely Alipay, CamScanner, QQ Wallet, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate, WeChat Pay, and WPS Office. At the same time, earlier executive orders banning transactions with the owners of TikTok and WeChat were halted by federal courts and the effective date of these orders has been suspended pending the outcome of ongoing litigation.

In particular, compliance with the recent securities trading ban has proven challenging for the financial community, forcing banks and investment companies to divest or restructure hundreds of products containing publicly traded securities of the named “Communist Chinese Military Companies” and other companies whose names “closely match” the names of the listed companies. The term “securities” is broadly defined under US law, and OFAC has interpreted the ban to apply to any security that “designed to provide investment exposure” to the securities of a named entity. Thus, the ban includes, for example, a mutual fund which includes in its portfolio one or more of the subject securities or an insurance policy that has a mutual fund option for insureds holding the securities of such named entities. The ban also applies to securities held on a US or foreign exchange if the investor is a US person. The NYSE has announced the delisting of these companies, and both the NASDAQ and MCSI have announced they will remove the listed companies from their indices.

In short, while other lame duck presidents have taken actions that make things easier for their successors, the Trump administration has taken the opposite tack in an apparent effort to lock in a hard-line China policy. It will be more challenging for the Biden administration to easily unwind. In response, China has adopted its own regulations prohibiting Chinese companies and individuals from complying with “punitive measures mandated by foreign governments.”

Outlook under President Biden 

Whether and to what degree the Biden administration will implement, unwind or limit the scope or applicability of these and other pre-existing Trump administration restrictions against China remain to be seen. As a threshold matter, we expect an initial waiting period as the Biden administration gets its new team in place, evaluates its overall strategic approach toward China, and considers these particular restrictive measures in the context of its overall strategy.

Generally, based on public statements to date, we believe that the Biden administration will in all probability share the basic view that China is a strategic competitor and potential adversary. However, how to deal with China, a major power whose cooperation the United States needs on some important issues, is another matter – there are a range of possible approaches. In this regard, at this early juncture, we believe that US policy toward China under President Biden is likely to reflect a number of elements:

-selective disengagement with China in certain areas viewed as more central to national security and cooperative in other areas where national security risks are considered less significant;

-more cooperation with allies to shape shared approaches to addressing areas of concern with respect to China;

-stronger views on human rights violations by China; and

-more direct engagement with China on areas of concern with a view toward seeking sensible solutions.

It is within this overall policy framework that the Biden administration will evaluate and approach the new and existing China restrictions imposed by the Trump administration. Certainly, the Biden administration has the legal authority to undo or roll back nearly all of the Trump Administration’s actions.

At the same time, the new administration undoubtedly will recognize that any major actions to roll back China sanctions will be controversial and raise questions among policy hard-liners who believe stringent dual-use export control sanctions are strongly justified in light of China’s “military-civil fusion” strategy (i.e., whereby any dual-use exports to commercial firms could wind up in China’s military sector).  Indeed, even small actions to curtail or limit China sanctions (e.g., removing companies from lists, creating new licenses or issuing new interpretations) will send political signals both at home and abroad. Meanwhile, the business community will monitor and interpret such measures in Talmudic fashion to divine if there is a new wind blowing in this area.

For these and other reasons, we do not foresee an imminent reversal of most of the Trump administration’s actions. Rather, we expect a more balanced and incremental approach than we have seen in the last four years, with more careful sculpting of existing sanctions to ameliorate the effects (with FAQs, licenses and the like) while taking a strong line against China in other areas in coordination with close allies.

Previous installments can be found here.


Jeffrey P.  Bialos, partner at Eversheds Sutherland, assists clients in making multi-faceted business decisions, structuring transactions and complying with complex regulatory requirements. A former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Industrial Affairs, he brings deep experience in defense, homeland security and national security matters, including antitrust, export controls, foreign investment, industrial security, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and mergers and acquisitions, and procurement.

Ginger T. Faulk, partner at Eversheds Sutherland, represents multinational companies in matters involving US government regulation of foreign trade and investment. She has extensive experience advising and representing global companies, counseling clients in matters arising under US sanctions, export controls, import and other national security and foreign policy trade-related regulations.