Why is it so difficult to renew the U.S.-China science and technology cooperation agreement? Why is it so difficult to renew the U.S.-China science and technology cooperation agreement?

Why is it so difficult to renew the U.S.-China science and technology cooperation agreement?

Why is it so difficult to renew the U.S.-China science and technology cooperation agreement?

The Sino-US Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement is the first agreement signed after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States. After the agreement expired in August 2023, it has been extended twice for half a year until now. Although China opened the door to exchanges with the United States more than 40 years ago, in recent years China has taken advantage of the open environment of the United States to steal scientific research results, causing the U.S. government and opposition parties to worry that China's actions will endanger U.S. national security. With the current deterioration of US-China relations, can this agreement be renewed in the long term? What are the challenges in renewal negotiations?

Competition between the United States and China escalates, and the prospects for the Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement are worrying
Majority of U.S. tech industry supports cooperation with China

The China-US Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement expires at the end of February this year . For a period of time before and after, neither China nor the United States confirmed whether it would be extended, leading some people to suspect that the agreement might not be renewed. On March 7 , the U.S. State Department announced that China and the United States agreed to extend the agreement for another six months.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department responded to our request for comment and stated that the extension is to continue negotiations to modify, expand and strengthen the protection mechanism of the agreement.

The China-US Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement, which has a history of 45 years, was last renewed in 2018. This time, China and the United States are discussing how to renew the contract, and the United States cannot disclose what issues are involved. Liu Pengyu, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in the United States, responded in writing to our interview, saying that Sino-US scientific and technological exchanges and cooperation are essentially beneficial to both sides, and specific details must be inquired from the relevant Chinese authorities.

Whether China and the United States will continue to sign this agreement has become a hot topic of concern.

A former senior official of the US State Department pointed out to this station that the issue of renewing the China-US Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement is ultimately a game between "science" and "politics." There appear to be many strong scientific reasons for maintaining this framework, but in reality there are challenges that require adjustments to address issues such as national security, intellectual property rights, reciprocal laboratory access, and research funding to respond to external concerns. . However, the bigger question above this is, "How does the United States want to treat China verbally, and what kind of relationship does it intend to establish with China?"

Concerns about contract renewal

The China-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement signed in 1979 covers agriculture, energy, aviation, medical care, environment, earth science and engineering and other fields.

However, with the many academic research controversies that have occurred in the past few years, Michael Kratsios, a White House technology policy adviser under former US President Trump, pointed out that the principle of reciprocal goodwill in the agreement has been maliciously used by China, resulting in China “improperly steals U.S. intellectual property, technology, and research results.” He has repeatedly advocated that the United States should terminate the agreement.

In 2008, Beijing launched the “Thousand Talents Plan” to attract overseas talents to innovate and start businesses in China and support the country’s strategic development goals. Some university professors overseas give up their tenured positions to do research in China for high salaries or funds. James Mulvenon, director of SOS International, a private defense contractor that studies technology transfer from China, told the New York Times that in addition to university professors, government scientists and U.S. companies are actively targeted by Chinese authorities. U.S. law enforcement agencies have discovered that the Chinese government has stolen sensitive technologies from U.S. laboratories through the "Thousand Talents Plan" in recent years, posing a threat to U.S. interests.

According to the FBI's 2019 China Risk Report to the U.S. Academia, Beijing's military intelligence units may contact U.S. academic personnel through visiting scholars, exchange/students, etc., and then use private exchanges, cooperation, inducements, or commercialization, etc. Plagiarism and plagiarism of scientific research results. Academic fields with the greatest risks include information technology, aerospace equipment, new energy vehicles, electric equipment, agriculture and biomedical technology.

Ye Yanqing (transliteration), who has been wanted by the FBI since 2020, is a lieutenant of the Chinese People's Liberation Army and a member of the Communist Party of China. When she studied at Boston University as an exchange student from October 2017 to April 2019, she performed a number of tasks assigned by Chinese People's Liberation Army officers, such as assessing U.S. military websites and sending U.S. documents and information to China.

Also charged at the same time was Zheng Chaosong (transliteration), who worked at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. On December 9, 2019, Zheng Chaosong secretly took away the laboratory's biological research test bottles and attempted to publish the results in his own name after returning to China. On January 6, 2021, Zheng Chaosong was sentenced to serve approximately 87 days in prison, 3 years of post-prison supervision, and was ordered to be deported.

In the United States, Charles Lieber, the former chairman of the Department of Chemistry at Harvard University, who was once optimistic by his peers as the next Nobel Prize winner, has participated in many government projects such as the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. . However, he failed to honestly report his employment at Wuhan University of Technology and his participation in the “Thousand Talents Plan” from 2012 to 2015. On April 26, 2023, Lieber was sentenced to 2 days in prison, 2 years of post-prison supervision, and 6 months of home confinement. He was also fined $50,000 and paid more than $30,000 in compensation to the IRS.

Krashas, ​​who participated in the latest renewal of the China-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement, wrote that although the agreement was later renewed with provisions to protect intellectual property rights, the Chinese Communist Party’s exploitative behavior was still not constrained: “The China-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement was allowed to The demise of the Agreement would send a strong diplomatic signal to Beijing that the era of condoning Chinese technology theft and bad trading practices is over. It would force Chinese leaders to admit that their hostile actions, provocations and refusal to abide by international rules and norms have undermined the A foundation for open science collaboration that has been enjoyed for decades.”

China-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement Transforms China

The United States established diplomatic relations with the Chinese Communist regime, largely because both sides wanted to check and balance the Soviet Union and end the Vietnam War. The first agreement after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries was the "China-US Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement." However, the implementation of the agreement was inevitably affected by the direction of the relationship between the two countries. For example, it was temporarily shelved after the June 4th incident in 1989.

James Feinerman, a professor of law at Georgetown University, said, "It was only after Nixon visited China that (China) really showed a strong interest, especially in scientific exchanges. Many of the first groups to go to China were technical Very strong personnel, they study plates and geology, or advanced physics, biochemistry, etc.” He said that as soon as China opened to the outside world in 1979, Nobel Prize winner Li Zhengdao of Columbia University brought 100 Chinese physics graduate students. Go to the United States to study for a PhD.

After Mao Zedong's death in 1976, Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping, who were in power, resumed the college entrance examination in 1977, which had been suspended for ten years, and also set off a wave of publicly funded study abroad in China. Li Shaomin, a professor at Old Dominion University in the United States, was one of the first batch of "Class 77" college students. After graduation, he became the first batch of graduate students to go abroad at public expense because of his excellent performance in the postgraduate entrance examination. He said that at that time, "China's Ministry of Education stipulated unified planning, so if you did well in the exam, you would be given a place to study abroad. At that time, going abroad was very popular, and studying abroad was what young people most wanted to do. As for going abroad, the United States is First choice." (Note: Li Shaomin applied to the State University of New York at Albany. Since the United States provided a full scholarship, he did not use the Chinese government scholarship. He later transferred to Princeton University to study demography.)

Perry Link, an American sinologist who has caught up with the upsurge of Sino-US exchanges, once served as the director of the Office of the National Academy of Sciences in Beijing. He said that at that time, "probably more than 90% of them were Chinese scientists learning from American scientists." However, in some projects, China could also learn from them. Contributions include allowing American scientists to go to Yunnan to study Yunnan golden monkeys, and understanding how China predicts earthquakes.

Also laying the foundation for scientific cooperation between China and the United States was the major discovery that pregnant women should be given folic acid supplements to prevent neural tube defects in newborns. Neural tube malformations refer to disorders in the fetal central nervous system during development, resulting in symptoms such as anencephaly and spina bifida.

Lin Perry pointed out, “The Communist Party has always hoped to learn from American scientists, and bringing over advanced science (results) is one of their big goals. The United States, on the other hand, starts from a relatively naive idealism (starting from) and does not follow the expectations of any country. To establish diplomatic relations, science should be exchanged."

Renewal without de-risking

The United States' open attitude toward science and technology is conducive to innovation, but those who question scientific exchanges point out that compared with the United States' openness, Beijing has deliberately chosen to develop several important strategic technologies and has gained advantages in recent years.

China's mentality of competition and always wanting to overtake others has given the United States a different view on U.S.-China exchanges. It was not until Jennifer Bouey, an epidemiologist at Georgetown University, studied the process of cooperation between China and the United States on AIDS prevention and control that she realized that science has “boundaries” and that they are not as natural as originally thought. At that time, China and the United States were able to cooperate closely on AIDS prevention and control in the ten years starting from 2002 because the United States did not regard China as a competitor and was very willing to engage economically, and even helped China enter the World Trade Organization. However, Huang Zhihuan said that China's attitude has changed in recent years. It believes that it has a complete disease supervision system and vaccine development, and it is the second largest economy after the United States, so it no longer needs US assistance. The United States is also losing trust in Beijing due to Beijing's cover-up of the COVID-19 epidemic amid deteriorating bilateral relations.

A 2023 study by the U.S. Congress pointed out that among all countries that report data to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), China's amount of sponsored R&D ranked seventh from 1991 to 2019. Two, only in the United States. In addition, China's "14th Five-Year Plan" (2021-2025) regards strengthening research relations with foreign countries as one of its key tasks, with the aim of making China a global scientific research center.

The concerns of U.S. politicians are valid for scientists working in academia, but they caution against overdoing it. Steven Kivelson, a physicist at Stanford University in the United States, took his field as an example and said that China has invested a lot of resources in researching quantum materials. If exchanges between China and the United States are interrupted, the United States will not be able to track China's latest progress. While attending the world's largest physics conference, he found that "exciting new developments are either coming from China or from a new generation of scholars immigrating to the United States from China. I don't have specific numbers, but I would guess that more than 50% of the talks were from China." people or Chinese-American scientists.”

Peter Michelson, a professor at Stanford University who once worked for NASA, also pointed out that the China Sky Eye is the most advanced radio telescope in the world. He used the Yunnan Observatory through Chinese students he had previously mentored. This project is partially sponsored by NASA, but it is not a direct bilateral cooperation, so it complies with regulations. He said: "We reach an agreement, develop it in advance, it is very simple and clear, what we do, what they do, and then jointly publish the results." Congress should "realistically assess whether there is a real national security threat or technology transfer concerns, If technical experts who understand the field judge that there is a certain risk, it should be done under limited conditions, such as in a U.S. government laboratory, or in a commercial manner."

Michelson emphasized that the main reason why American teaching and research institutions are world-class is that they accept many international students and maintain contact with overseas academic circles. Maintaining the China-US Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement can at least "stabilize this commitment."

Data - the main obstacle to negotiations between the two countries

According to the Wall Street Journal, when it comes to renewal negotiations, China hopes that the general environment will continue to remain open, while the United States hopes to limit areas of cooperation and requires joint research projects to be used only for peaceful purposes rather than military purposes. The article also quoted Denis Simon, a scholar who resigned out of anger at American universities because of their "China fear", pointing out that the use of data is currently the main obstacle to negotiations between the two countries.

Since many new technologies and applications involve data and even have dual-use characteristics, China has also passed the "Data Security Law" on the use of data. How the two sides reach a consensus will determine the fate of the agreement negotiations. Cameron Kerry, now a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a former general counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce, told this station that artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies require a lot of international cooperation not only in research and development but also in computing capacity requirements. China and the United States The two countries are also each other's largest cooperation partners, but these technologies may be used in military weapons. Therefore, for the United States, the principle of "risk removal rather than decoupling" will also be applied in negotiating the "China-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement": "I think this is important for It is a very difficult negotiation process between China and the United States, which is why it takes a lot of time."

Fei Nengwen emphasized that the "China-US Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement" is not just a simple symbolic meaning. It also means whether the exchanges between the two countries are approved by the state and subject to a certain degree of legal protection: "Even if we think that China is hostile to US interests, If there's a problem, we want to be on the ground and know what they're doing, and we want them to interact with us. Pulling away and not engaging seems counterproductive to our goals."

Reporter: Lucie Lo   Editor: Li Yaqian Editor: He Zu


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