As relations between Washington and Beijing get icier, U.S. officials and politicians in Washington have raised several warnings about potential Chinese threats to national security: telecoms equipment, biotechnology, and even purchases of U.S. farmland. Now, the White House is identifying a new potential national security threat: The more than 200 China-made ship-to-shore cranes in U.S. ports.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration issued an executive order to gives the U.S. Coast Guard more authority to respond to malicious cyber activity in the U.S. marine transportation system and to mandate requirements on China-manufactured cranes at strategic seaports.

Part of Washington’s strategy is a $20 billion investment over the next five years to improve U.S. port infrastructure, including domestic crane production. The money will come from funds appropriated for the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

These funds will support the U.S. subsidiary of the Japanese firm Mitsui to produce cranes domestically. It’s the first time they’ve been made in the U.S. for 30 years, according to officials.

U.S. ports employ 31 million Americans and contribute $5.4 trillion to the economy, according to figures from the White House.

Cranes from China “account for nearly 80% of cranes at U.S. ports,” Rear Admiral John Vann, head of the U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command, told reporters. These cranes can be controlled, serviced and programmed from remote locations, Vann said, making them vulnerable to exploitation.

Concerns over China-made cranes have been reportedly been building among U.S. intelligence and national security officials for at least a year. Cranes from Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries, a China-based manufacturer that’s also known as ZPMC, attracted particular scrutiny.

When asked about the issue last year, Chinese diplomats dismissed the concerns as a “paranoia-driven” drive to restrict trade.

Wednesday’s executive order comes just a few weeks after FBI director Christopher Wray warned that Chinese hackers could target critical U.S. infrastructure to “wreak havoc.”

The order to beef up security at U.S. ports comes amid wider geopolitical friction between Washington and Beijing. The U.S. is encouraging companies to diversify supply chains away from China, and seeks to redirect manufacturing to locations that are deemed friendlier to Washington.

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