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Republican lawmakers have urged the United States against renewing a science and technology cooperation deal it signed with China in 1979, fearing that the communist regime may exploit it to gain a military edge against the United States.
The U.S.-China Science and Technology Agreement (STA), set to expire on Aug. 27, has facilitated collaboration in areas ranging from agricultural science to basic research in physics and chemistry.
However, Republican lawmakers warned that research partnerships organized under the STA could lead to China developing technologies that may be used against the United States in the future.
“The United States must stop fueling its own destruction. Letting the STA expire is a good first step,” the lawmakers stated in a joint letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 27.
The letter, jointly issued by the chair of the House Select Committee on China, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), and nine other Republican lawmakers, cited a 2018 project conducted under the STA to launch “instrumented balloons.”
They highlighted that a suspected Chinese spy balloon was seen flying over the continental United States years after the project was launched, infringing on U.S. sovereignty.
The balloon was eventually shot down by the U.S. military on Feb. 4, despite Beijing’s claims that it was a weather balloon that had drifted off course.
The lawmakers also stated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has “over a dozen” active research projects with Chinese entities under the STA, which they claimed include technologies with “clear dual-use applications,” such as developing techniques for analyzing satellite and drone imagery for irrigation management.
“It should come as no surprise that the PRC will exploit civilian research partnerships for military purposes to the greatest extent possible. The PRC openly acknowledges its practice of military-civil fusion,” they said, referring to China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.
“The PRC uses academic researchers, industrial espionage, forced technology transfers, and other tactics to gain an edge in critical technologies, which in turn fuels the People’s Liberation Army modernization,” the lawmakers added.
China’s embassy in Washington previously said that Chinese officials had approached the United States a year ago to talk about renewing the STA but that Washington has been conducting a review of the agreement.
China’s Tech Theft
U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns has warned that Beijing was engaged in the “consistent and persistent theft of intellectual property” to accelerate “forced technology transfer” from the United States.
Burns said the malign influence was making it increasingly difficult for the two powers to compete peacefully and would have ramifications for U.S. security in the region in the near and long terms.
“We’re certainly competing for military power and security in the Indo-Pacific,” he said at the Global Leadership Coalition summit on June 7. “We’re certainly competing for military power and security in the Indo-Pacific.”
Burns connected the issue of technology theft to a larger struggle between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to direct the evolution of the international system. The United States is championing a rules-based liberal order, and the CCP is pursuing an authoritarian system that favors totalitarian regimes like its own, he said.
To that end, he said that the struggle to maintain or reshape the international order would have cascading consequences on all areas of national power.
Andrew Thornebrooke and Reuters contributed to this report.