News blog

US science advisers talk about China, but not to China

Update, 23 March:  I’ve been alerted that the ban I refer to below — which restricts the interactions NASA and OSTP can have with China — is not wholesale. The 2012 appropriations bill passed  in November retains the restrictive language but also gives the two agencies an out: it states that the restrictions don’t apply to activities which the agencies “have certified pose no risk of resulting in the transfer of technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications to China or a Chinese-owned company.”

Experts on Chinese science policy today told US science advisers that, even as the growing nation pursues massive investments in science and technology, it was allowing unfair intellectual property practices to persist.

“In the last 30 years, the risks of cooperation with China have increased, but so too have the benefits,” said Richard Suttmeier, a retired China expert and political scientist from the University of Oregon at Eugene. Suttmeier was one of two speakers invited to brief the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, led by John Holdren, the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Suttmeier said that attention to science and technology policy in China had declined in various US agencies. “Without further coordination, we are losing an ability to manage the risks effectively.”

The second speaker was Robert Atkinson, the president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington DC-based think tank. He catalogued what he saw as China’s bullying approach to “innovation mercantilism”: tacit or even explicit approval to acquire intellectual property through any means and then turn that into a commercial advantage. He recited recent examples of companies being coerced into turning over technology in return for access to China’s domestic markets. “I think we have to do a better job pressing them.”

That Holdren was hearing the tough-minded views on China would surely please Frank Wolf, a Congressional appropriator from Virginia who has championed legislation that bans Holdren from pursuing bilateral science talks with China. Where Wolf has called for disengagement, Suttmeier and Atkinson pressed for more involvement by the US government. Suttmeier said that it was “lamentable that OSTP has been somewhat hobbled by the leaders of the legislature.”


Comments are closed.