This piece originally appeared in the American Conservative.
The imminent expiration of the U.S.-China Science and Technology Agreement (STA) on August 27 presents the Biden administration with a critical opportunity to protect America’s innovative edge from the Chinese Communist Party and to ensure continued American leadership in emerging technologies. Though initially conceived with good intentions to foster bilateral cooperation, over time the agreement has become a conduit for Chinese malfeasance, siphoning off valuable U.S. intellectual property, technology, and research and development, and should be allowed to expire.
The agreement’s roots trace back to a more optimistic era, when an idealistic Washington hoped that engaging with China’s scientists and researchers might moderate the totalitarian impulses of the CCP regime. The STA, signed by President Jimmy Carter and China’s Deng Xiaoping in January 1979, outlines a variety of areas of potential cooperation, including joint research programs and the exchange of scientists and scholars. Four decades on, with copious evidence of Chinese theft and espionage accumulating, those hopes seem profoundly naive.
Consider just some of the ways U.S. taxpayer funds and R&D resources have been exploited to abet Beijing’s relentless technology acquisition strategy under the false pretenses of the STA framework: More than a decade ago, NASA's engagement with China on sensitive aeronautics research and technology so alarmed Congress over potential military applications that they statutorily banned NASA from conducting such joint projects absent security clearance. Cooperative aerospace and atmospheric monitoring programs lent Chinese engineers valuable expertise, only for advanced surveillance balloons to sail across the United States earlier this year. Even the National Science Foundation, which bankrolls nearly a quarter of all basic research at America’s universities, finds itself so inundated with investigations into foreign influence among its grantees that its inspector general confesses her office is unable to keep pace.