US Congress takes aim at recruiting scientists in China | Business and economic issues

Congress aims to exploit China’s ability to recruit scientists and academics in the United States as part of broader moves in Washington to address the growth of the Asian nation.

A recent House bill to bolster U.S. research and development prevents scientists and academics from participating in U.S.-funded research projects if they also receive support from Beijing.

“For years, Congress, federal research agencies, national security agencies and universities have been working to eradicate the malicious recruitment of foreign talent,” said Iowa Republican Representative Randy Feenstra, who introduced the measure, during a committee hearing on the legislation. “It’s time to simply ban receiving dollars from U.S. taxpayers.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian avoided questioning the bill during a regular press conference on Monday in Beijing, saying he did not know about the matter.

The move to the home of the restriction is yet another sign of the strained relationship between the world’s two largest economies, even at the level of academic inquiry that has attracted hundreds of thousands of Chinese students and scholars in the United States. hardest line on China.

On Monday, the United States, the United Kingdom and its allies formally blamed the Microsoft Exchange hack on Chinese government-affiliated players and accused the Chinese government of a wide range of “malicious cyber activities.”

The United States has also charged four Chinese nationals affiliated with the State Security Ministry with a campaign to hack into the computer systems of dozens of companies, universities and government entities in the United States and internally between 2011 and 2018.

The Biden administration has planned a series of moves to protect U.S. interests in the region, including issuing a warning Friday to investors about the risks of doing business in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Congress is moving to punish the government in Beijing for trade, human rights and intellectual property.

The question of how to counter Beijing’s attempts to obtain sensitive or proprietary information through species other than traditional espionage has proved annoying to lawmakers and law enforcement officials. According to the Justice Department, there is a link with China in about 60% of all cases of theft of trade secrets and about 80% of all economic espionage persecutions involve conduct that would benefit the Chinese government.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian avoided questioning the bill during a regular press conference on Monday in Beijing, saying he was not informed of the matter. [File: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

The Senate has taken a stab at a proposal to give stricter federal scrutiny of donations to U.S. overseas higher education institutions. However this was watered down when it was included in broader legislation to enhance U.S. competitiveness after colleges and universities complained that their needs would be onerous and ultimately harmful to U.S. innovation. .

Feenstra’s provision would require the National Science Foundation to establish a requirement that individuals certify that they are not an active participant in a “malicious program to recruit foreign talent.” Although it includes North Korea, Russia and Iran, it is clearly intended for China’s Thousand Talents program to attract scientists and entrepreneurs from the highest American institutions. The initiative backed by the Chinese government has been linked to several high-profile arrests, including Harvard professor Charles Lieber, who has been charged with making false statements to federal authorities regarding his involvement. to the program. Lieber pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.

The U.S. Board of Education, a trade group for U.S. universities, has said it has been monitoring the Thousand Talents program since China’s talent recruitment plans were the subject of a 2019 Senate report, said Sarah Spreitzer, director of government relations. The report concluded that China seeks American research and know-how for its own economic and military gain.

Congress has made it clear that they do not want to stop all academic exchanges and understand the importance of these research partnerships and scholarly exchanges, Spreitzer said.

“We’re going to have to look closely at how talent recruitment programs are defined,” he said. “It’s better if you focus closely on specific countries. Anything else to focus more closely on addressing those specific concerns is better than banning any academic or scholarly exchange programs between those countries.”

The passage of the restriction by the U.S. House of Representatives is yet another sign of the strained relationship between the world’s two largest economies. [File: Susan Walsh/Reuters]

Emily Weinstein, a research analyst at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, said the House’s approach eliminates some of the inherited dangers in focusing too narrowly on China’s Thousand Talents program, one of the critics of the China Department of Justice’s initiative aimed at the economy. espionage operations is influence.

“We don’t want to build our own national security apparatus to target a country because we have to pull ourselves to our feet,” Weinstein said in an interview. “This is not something that is intended for someone specifically. This is not something that applies to Chinese researchers, for example. This is something that applies to anyone in the United States who does something that is contrary to the law.” ‘interests of national security of the United States or even against the academic freedom of the United States’.

But Tobita Chow, the director of Global Justice’s advocacy group, said the measure could have a corrosive impact on research and stifle collaboration between the two countries.

“There are all these repressions that are based on an inflated sense of the threat that is posed by China’s researchers,” Chow said. “And I’m also concerned that much of this comes from just a deep misunderstanding of how the Chinese government operates that incorporates some frankly racist assumptions about the Chinese people and the Chinese state that have long been entrenched in many intelligence agencies.”

Feenstra said during the market that his proposal would not “prohibit the legitimate exchange of scientific ideas and collaboration,” adding that it would still allow researchers to participate in an international conference and other open research exchanges they could not do while receives support from any of the countries of concern.

The House brings together a $ 250 billion response to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. Representative Frank Lucas, the first Republican on the House Science Committee, said he thought the House and Senate versions could be reconciled from September to October this year. In addition to the increase in spending authorized by the National Science Foundation and the creation of a new technology direction to help the United States compete with China, lawmakers also hope to spend up to $ 52 billion in funding. to attract semiconductor manufacturers in the United States.

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