Tuesday, April 16, 2024

U.S. – China Technological Cooperation: Charting a Pragmatic Path

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Diplomat Magazine
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DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands. Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. "Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions." Dr. Mayelinne De Lara, Publisher

By Ms. Yi Wang, the Head of Global Development Program of ANBOUND

Prior to the formalization of diplomatic ties between the United States and China, there existed minimal official relations and a notable degree of mutual distrust. Scientific collaboration was then considered to be an avenue to initiate communication between the two nations during this period.

On January 31, 1979, then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping signed the U.S.-China Scientific and Technological Cooperation Agreement. 45 years later, this agreement expired on February 27, 2024, without renewal or extension by both parties. This outcome has sparked numerous discussions and policy debates not only in the U.S. and China, but also in Europe and Asia.

As it stands, both sides need to clearly and decisively answer three questions: is there a necessity to cooperate? If so, is there the will to do so? How can the cooperation be done?

The U.S. and its European allies have deep concerns about China’s competitiveness in the field of technology, especially the latter’s “civil-military fusion” strategy, transfer of core technologies, concentration of innovation resources to support state-owned enterprises, intellectual property infringement, and inadequate legal regulations. They believe that these aspects may pose risks to their national security and other regions of the world. Therefore, the governments of Western developed countries have taken strong measures to block cooperation and investment by China in the field of technology with foreign countries in recent years.

Concerns over national security, economic sovereignty, and fair competition have led to escalating trade tensions between the West and China, prompting a growing array of limitations on the adoption of Chinese smart technology. Clearly, this trend represents a phenomenon of “politicization” and “securitization”.

Meanwhile, issues such as climate change, pandemics, food crises, food safety, deepfake AI, and the proliferation of false information on the internet are causing widespread dissatisfaction, discomfort, and anxiety among people everywhere, leading to a palpable increase in feelings of discontent and insecurity in daily life. The world is witnessing a regression in human rights.

Science and technology were intended to serve as potent tools for humanity to conquer disasters. Regardless of our location, we all seek technological assistance to bolster our confidence as we navigate an uncertain future. However, amid the push for technological advancement, rifts and conflicts among groups are intensifying, and animosity is becoming more evident. If technological progress fails to enhance human happiness, then significant change is imperative for the world.

There is still much consensus among the research, academic, and business communities in Europe and the U.S. that without China’s participation in scientific and technological cooperation, the world’s most pressing challenges cannot be addressed.

“Science plays an enormous unseen role in keeping international avenues of contact open, even when political doors slam shut”, pointed out in an article published in Scientific American October last year, and the same article calls for keeping cooperation channels between the U.S. and China open.

Clearly, cooperation between the U.S.  and China in science and technology bears the responsibility and hopes for enhancing global development conditions.

From the perspective of partnership, priority needs to be given to the following points, which can be options in policy formulation.

First of all, countries can appoint their own national “science and technology affairs envoys”. In our current world, technology is deeply integrated with industry. The coverage of technology policies has hence extended to the entire industrial chain. This trend not only requires countries to strengthen international coordination and communication in technology policies but should also consider establishing dedicated positions, upgrading administrative levels, and expanding corresponding decision-making powers.

Secondly, in terms of developing cooperation, efforts should be made to establish accountability mechanisms, create an open trade and investment environment, and continuously enhance policy transparency, while striking a balance between protecting domestic interests and ensuring fair participation in the global market.

From basic research to industrial transformation, the path of technological innovation can be a long and arduous one. It is still the necessity for the Chinese to work harder, to enhance their abilities to transform scientific and technological achievements, promote the equalization of advanced technologies applied to basic public services in China, rectify unreasonable rules and regulations, strengthen China’s institutional framework of intellectual property protection systems, minimize IP infringement, and resolve loopholes in market regulation.

Moreover, it is important to promote dialogue, discussions, and public debates among foreign research institutions and think tanks across various nations. This is vital to safeguard the freedom of movement of innovative elements. At the same time, there should be an increase in scientific and technological exchange activities between cities and regions, while fostering multifaceted connections among social organizations, educational institutions, and scholars. Concrete steps could involve coordinating joint technological research on mutually interesting topics, partnering on scientific investigations and training initiatives, expanding collaborative networks, sharing best practices and expert insights, and facilitating cross-border data sharing to elevate research quality and influence.

Additionally, it is crucial to introduce courses on intellectual property rights and scientific ethics knowledge in primary and secondary school education in various countries, and this is especially true for China.

At its core, science and technology are aimed at enhancing human life but also encounter cognitive boundaries and involve various stakeholders. For instance, advancements in cutting-edge fields like the internet, artificial intelligence, and genome editing promise technological benefits, yet they may also give rise to new challenges. Therefore, achieving success in technology goes beyond merely claiming superiority. By instilling in children and young adults an understanding of the integrity of scientific research and the principles of law, they can drive positive transformations in future innovation.

Trust forms the foundation of collaboration. Whether it’s technological cooperation between China and the U.S., or with other nations, it is crucial to acknowledge cultural and legal differences. China is indeed tackling numerous challenges and shortcomings, including issues related to intellectual property awareness and legal compliance, which require time to address or improve. If all parties can efficiently utilize resources, foster mutual understanding through various means, and prioritize partnerships and communication, it will generate more innovation vitality.

In the end, each of these efforts contributes to fostering innovation and making the world a better place.

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