Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you to the Committee of 100 for inviting me to address this impressive group. I’m glad to be able to join you virtually, much as I would like to be in Palo Alto right now.
I’ve just finished a week in another great American hub of innovation and international exchange — New York City, where I was for the UN General Assembly.
As with everywhere I travel, there was much interest at the UN in the global challenge of engaging with a Chinese party-state that hasn’t fulfilled so many of its international promises — a Chinese party-state that hasn’t transformed into a power respectful of the liberal rules and norms that so many of us hoped would characterize our relations with Beijing, and Beijing’s relations with the world generally.
This is a challenge that pervades all aspects of U.S. and global engagement with China, and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the science-and-technology element with you today.
AMERICAN LEADERSHIP AND SCIENCE COOPERATION
Diplomacy and science are tied together much more closely than many people realize. International cooperation in science and technology, or S&T, is essential to economic growth, jobs, economic and national security, and our ability to address global challenges, from disease prevention to conserving water resources and preserving the natural environment.
The conference you are hosting today reflects the vital role that S&T and international cooperation have always played in American prosperity. It also reflects the fact that the U.S. government, U.S. universities, U.S. businesses and other communities are re-evaluating some longstanding practices and assumptions in an international environment characterized by competition between democratic and authoritarian influence, and between free and repressive visions of world order.
The United States is the global leader in S&T. We invest more than any other country in research and development — $496 billion. We attract the most venture capital — around $70 billion. We award the most advanced degrees. And we are the largest producer in high-tech manufacturing sectors. But although we lead in some of these overall metrics, we recognize that great amounts of technical expertise, knowledge, and resources exist beyond our borders.
Indeed, China has risen as a mighty player in global S&T, investing in R&D at near-parity with the United States at $420 billion. The United States and China contribute to roughly half of the global S&T “pie” of $2.2 trillion, but there is another $1.1 trillion out there being contributed by countries all over the world.
Science is indeed a global endeavor. That means international cooperation in science is as vital as ever. Science can build bridges internationally. But misused, as history teaches us all too well, science and technology can set back the causes of international peace, prosperity and human rights.
THE NEED TO REEVALUATE ASSUMPTIONS
We are at a point in history that requires us to reevaluate some of the assumptions we’ve made about the values and intentions of certain foreign governments. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed this in a speech last year in Brussels.
When the United States helped to rebuild Europe and Japan after the War, we established systems that promoted the fundamental values of freedom and democracy. We assumed that if we helped countries develop economically, and if we invited societies – even former adversaries – to join the community of responsible nations, then “bad” behavior would lessen, regions would stabilize, and states of all kinds would come to adopt democratic values.
These lofty hopes proved, in some cases, to be misplaced. This is why so many Americans have been asking if the current international order serves all Americans as well as it could. Without accountability, bad actors have exploited the international liberal order for their own gain.
In science, as between nations, certain values and norms are considered fundamental: free inquiry, openness, transparency, reciprocity, ethics, and merit-based competition, among others. These values and the policies that enshrine them are vital to a functioning international “order’’ in science and technology. In other words, we need a level playing field built on integrity, humane values, respect for intellectual property, and the common pursuit of knowledge.
But these principles don’t prevail everywhere. To the contrary, they are often exploited for unfair gains, and for illiberal, repressive uses, including by the government of China. In the same way that we must re-examine the international order, the unabashed disregard for scientific norms by governments such as China’s forces us to revisit our assumption that simply propounding norms means others will adopt them, rather than undermine and exploit them.
Unfortunately, no honest discussion of science and technology exchange with China in the year 2019 can fail to recognize the Chinese government’s use of technology to create a surveillance and police state that dictatorial governments of the past could only dream of. This high-tech authoritarianism, channeling ingenuity and technological genius into instruments of repression, is visible both across China and in the technological products and governance norms exported from China to other governments around the world. This could take the form of 5th generation wireless infrastructure that would allow Beijing to gain access to massive flows of data from around the world, or facial recognition algorithms for docking the social credit ratings of protestors.
But it has its worst manifestation in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has detained more than one million Uighur Muslims and other Muslim minorities in internment camps since April 2017, from which we hear credible reports of deaths, forced labor, torture, forced sterilization, and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Far beyond the camps, Xinjiang is subject to pervasive high-tech surveillance and involuntary collection of personal data, including DNA samples.
As Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said earlier this week, “history will judge the international community for how we respond to this attack on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Together we must seek to understand the truth and act on it.”
RISKS TO RESEARCH
This is the backdrop for the alarm raised in recent years by government agencies, NGOs, and academics about challenges they face in international S&T cooperation with China.
The Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, wrote an open letter to the American research community recently. He noted that “the open and internationally collaborative nature of the United States research enterprise has been critical to our success in research.” However, “some nations have exhibited increasingly sophisticated efforts to exploit, influence, and undermine our research activities and environments…which ultimately undermine the integrity of the research enterprise and, thus, our economic and national security.”
Our partners in the intelligence and law enforcement communities have identified an increasing number of instances in which foreign intelligence services have co-opted individual academics, researchers, and others to conduct intelligence-related activities while in the United States. As FBI Director Christopher Wray noted in Senate testimony recently, the FBI has more than 1,000 “investigations across the country involving attempted theft of U.S. intellectual property…almost all leading back to China.”
Chinese intelligence services—working through a variety of non-traditional actors over whom they have influence—pose a clear threat to our national security.
Chinese Communist Party leaders have been explicit regarding their objectives when it comes to science and technology. China has set forth an ambitious national strategy, which President Xi Jinping personally oversees as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He sits on a central level steering committee that directs a national plan to break down all barriers between the civilian and military technological spheres by “fusing” the defense and civilian industrial bases through what Chinese officials call “military-civil fusion.”
What military-civil fusion means, in practice, is that it is a priority for the Chinese government to develop or acquire advanced technology, including Western technology, that is useful militarily. This may occur through legitimate means such as joint research and development with foreign firms, or through collaboration with foreign universities. But it also occurs illicitly, through theft and espionage.
A raft of U.S. indictments over the past decade demonstrate illicit targeting of U.S. corporations to gain economic advantage and to improve military capabilities. A key enabler for China’s military modernization has been its access to the U.S. economy, including America’s sophisticated industrial and technology sectors and our world-class universities.
China’s “military-civil fusion” policy is enshrined in national law and strategy at a level which cannot be overridden by such mundane things as end-user commitments on export licenses, promises made to foreign officials about how technologies are to be controlled, or contractual commitments made to foreign governments or companies. If Chinese officials believe a given technology can be of any use to the country’s military and national security complex as Beijing prepares itself to bully and coerce its neighbors and challenge the United States for global leadership, one can be quite sure that the technology will be made available for those purposes –no matter what. There are no checks and balances, no independent judiciary, no rights to privacy or free expression to provide recourse.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that Chinese citizens do not deserve to benefit from innovation and technology. The people of China should, and deserve, to benefit from technology. They also, however, deserve a government that represents their interests.
In that vein, we must seek to ensure that Chinese students and scholars who come to the United States to study, research, and learn with their American peers are not pressured by the Chinese government to engage in activities beyond the scope of legitimate academic pursuits. Coercion of even a single Chinese student or scholar in the United States is unacceptable.
We take the threat of espionage through academia seriously, and there are visa procedures in place to confront the issue. But let me be clear: this is a very small percentage of the greater population. In 2019, only one ten thousandth of one percent (.0001%) of student visa applicants from China have been refused on these grounds. In fact, the total number of visas refused for Chinese students has declined each of the last four years.
A WAY FORWARD
The U.S. government believes we must be explicit in our engagements with other countries about practices that we find unacceptable. Basic fairness and reciprocity demand that we hold countries accountable to their commitments. When basic values are not respected, and the playing field is not level, we can neither cooperate to our fullest, nor compete fairly.
We are concerned that there is no reciprocity between the U.S. and China for scholars. On American campuses, scholars from around the world enjoy academic freedom and open access. But in China, speech and topics are restricted, and the flow of information and scientific data has become a one-way street. Research in China has become more difficult, with American academics experiencing a variety of barriers including censorship, visa issues, lack of access to archives, and attempts to control agendas. It is difficult to move forward in true bilateral partnership amid such a huge discrepancy in academic freedom.
We seek to return to a system where innovators are confident that their best ideas and intellectual property are properly credited, protected, and can be brought to the marketplace. To this end, the U.S. government is working together with what we call our “National Security Innovation Base.” This group is comprised of academia, the private sector, and National Laboratories, as well as key allies and top global funders of R&D. We are working together to promote scientific and technological advances while simultaneously protecting the integrity of the enterprise.
This effort is just getting started, and we will be looking to voices like yours to guide our decision-making. I know each of you is invested in finding solutions – and there are many. As my colleague, Assistant Secretary Chris Ford, has said, we should do more to organize “coalitions of caution” to share information and develop best practices through which we can together be both safer and more prosperous in the future.
We want to continue to be the primary destination for the world’s best minds to come to study, to research, to start companies – including those from China. In fact, the United States is the destination for more than 450,000 Chinese students, which amounts to more than one-third of all international students in the United States. As President Trump said at the G20 this year, “We want to have Chinese students come and use our great schools, our great universities. They have been great students and tremendous assets.”
The United States values scientists of Chinese descent as members of the American research enterprise. We recognize that for decades scientists of Chinese descent have contributed substantially to scientific innovations at research institutions across the United States.
I know that there is a concern that certain groups are being targeted. Let me be clear: our concerns are focused not on any ethnic group or nationality, but on actions by specific individuals, including some with links to foreign governments, who have violated the trust of the American research enterprise. When such activity is identified, the appropriate U.S. agencies act to protect U.S. interests and U.S. persons using a variety of legal authorities.
We want to keep our systems open because they attract the best, enable the highest quality research, and facilitate innovation. Rather than shy away from international science and technology cooperation, we will stay the course and promote our unparalleled scientific enterprise. And we will do so in a manner that protects the integrity of the international science-and-technology enterprise.
We look forward to every opportunity to work with you on these opportunities and challenges. Thank you for dedicating time and energy to this important issue. I wish you a fruitful exchange. And I look forward to joining you in person one day soon.