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Congressional paranoia creates technical hitch that leaves sci-tech agreement in limbo: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-02-28 20:19

The six-month extension the United States government gave to the China-US Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement expired on Tuesday. It remains unclear whether it will be renewed, extended or, as some fear, simply abandoned.

Neither Beijing nor Washington has given any indication as to what may actually happen next. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told the media on Tuesday the Chinese side "has kept communicating" with the US side on the matter. The US State Department said it is negotiating to "amend, extend, and strengthen protections within" the agreement, but declined to confirm the US would extend the deal.

Given the present state of overall bilateral relations, and the resistance the 45-year-old agreement faces in the US Congress, any decision on either renewal or just another extension will not come easily. In this sense, even a belated extension of the agreement would be worth celebrating. Killing it would be a terrible mistake.

There is a prevailing belief in the US Congress that the agreement is unilaterally in China's favor. Some US politicians' growing fear of US science and technology boosting Chinese capabilities to usurp the US' technology leadership has resulted in their conviction it poses a potential threat to US national security. The best self-protection, some lawmakers advocate, is to scrap it and shut China out. Such a blinkered view has actually blinded them to the mutually beneficial aspects of the agreement.

Signed in 1979 by US President Jimmy Carter and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, the science and technology cooperation agreement has served both sides well as an umbrella framework for bilateral cooperation in such fields as agriculture, energy, space, health, environment, Earth sciences and engineering, in addition to educational and academic exchanges.

China, without doubt, has benefited hugely from such cooperation. But so too has the US. Now as China is catching up quickly in such realms, the two countries have become each other's "biggest research partner, by a considerable margin", as Nature magazine pointed out in an editorial published on Monday. So much so that the US Environmental Protection Agency has called its relationship with China "one of its most significant".

Titled "Why it would be a dangerous folly to end US-China science pact", the editorial rightfully, laments that "there is too much talk about the risks of collaboration — and too little about the benefits".

A seminar hosted by the Washington-based Institute for China-America Studies found that "in the event of the agreement's nonrenewal, the mutual confidence that sustains and underpins collaboration is bound to suffer". Such mutual confidence is critical to the kind of collaboration Washington anticipates from Beijing, from climate change to public health.

US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne Clark is reportedly going to visit Beijing, leading a delegation of former US government officials. The visit is viewed by some US media outlets as the latest sign of the two countries trying to improve relations. Keeping the agreement alive will certainly be conducive to such endeavors as well as the overall relationship.

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