December 18, 2023
BEIJING – The US-China Science and Technology Agreement, which was signed in 1979 and has been renewed every five years or so ever since, has facilitated cooperation to the benefit of both sides. But it has become the subject of controversy, with some Republican lawmakers adamant that it should be scrapped. They claim that it aids China’s technological and military rise and has failed to ensure a reciprocal relationship.
To mollify those opposing another renewal of the deal, the Joe Biden administration is seeking to renegotiate it with Beijing. In a speech at the Brookings Institution on Friday, US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said that he met with the Chinese minister of science and technology a couple of weeks ago in Beijing and the two sides had begun a discussion on whether or not to have a new agreement, and “what would be the issues involved”.
Despite admitting the agreement was “the bedrock” of Sino-US cooperation, Burns said the negotiations would be complicated as the agreement did not account for the latest science and technology advances. “It’s not a given that we are going to agree” on its renewal, he concluded.
Those in the US who oppose any new agreement claim that China exploits the agreement to carry out industrial espionage and the theft of the US’ scientific and commercial achievements. But such claims have been heard before and never been substantiated. Not to mention that it is the US that has been repeatedly caught engaging in such activities.
But to the prejudiced critics of the agreement it is China that is guilty of such skullduggery, to the extent that it has been the sole beneficiary of the deal. Yet the fact is that by establishing a set of principles for scientific exchanges and cooperative programs the agreement has been mutually beneficial. That the Biden administration is trying to renegotiate the deal rather than simply scrap it proves that, whatever the paranoid and hysterical voices in Congress may claim, the US has also gained from the agreement, and those of a more rational mind do not want to ditch cooperation in all technology and science-related areas with China.
Nor does the Biden administration want to spoil the upturn in ties generated by the recent talks between the leaders of the two countries in San Francisco, which has helped stabilize relations between the two sides to some degree.
At that meeting, the two leaders agreed that an intergovernmental dialogue mechanism on artificial intelligence should be established. No doubt such a mechanism could be put in place for other areas in which the two sides have concerns.
It is important that an agreement is reached as it is clear that with many in Washington lack a correct understanding of China and unwilling to look at the country’s development objectively, the “bedrock” of the agreement is needed more than ever. Not just to ensure the two countries can continue to cooperate but to inject some more needed confidence that the world is still heading in the right direction.