Political Pressure Puts Longstanding Science Agreement in Jeopardy

Anti-China political rhetoric along with increased examples of Chinese theft of scientific information are calling into question a science and technology cooperation agreement between the United States and China. The agreement, which is renewed every five years, was first signed in 1979 by U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping.

The agreement has weathered previous political hurdles, including 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. The regular renewals every five years have allowed revisions to be made that reflect changes to the U.S. – Chinese relationship. In 2018, the Trump administration made changes regarding the protection of U.S. intellectual property.

A signed agreement should not have any short-term impact on current scientific collaborations and is not necessary for individual collaborations to take place. However, the absence of an agreement will send a long-term message to China about U.S. interest in working with their scientific community.

The agreement between the United States and China is one of dozens of similar agreements () the U.S. has with countries around the world. The large number of other agreements would make the absence of an agreement with China all the more stark.

The Biden Administration has indicated that the agreement has been temporarily extended for six months while negotiations are underway. This would not be the first temporary extension and final agreements are often backdated once finally agreed to.

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: kwilson@ascb.org