US attempt to block talent exchange won’t slow down China’s development pace
Published: Jul 19, 2021 08:15 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The US Congress is reportedly processing a bill that will further obstruct talent exchanges and technology partnership with China. The recently passed House bill would bar scientists and academics from participating in US-funded research projects if they are also receiving support from China, the Bloomberg reported.

Just passed by the House, the bill's future is still fraught with uncertainty; now it's of little significance to analyze the consequence of it. However, it is among a series of broader moves in Washington to contain China's scientific and technological advancement, a trend that deserves thorough assessment.

Driven by a Cold War mindset, the US is increasingly focused on arbitrary moves to restrict Chinese students and academic exchanges in the US among an intensifying technology and economic competition with China.

Recently over 1,000 Chinese students plan to file a suit after they found that despite the US Embassy in China reopening to process visa applications in early May, strict restrictions on those with technology backgrounds remain in place, and also extending to those applying for study in literature and business, according to media reports.

There is no shortage of similar examples over recent years that the US government is setting obstacles to normal talent exchange with China. As the US continues to consolidate its view of China as a major geopolitical rival in both economy and technology terms, its restriction measures are aiming to contain China's technological development. Indeed, talent is the key to the competition between China and the US, but it is unrealistic and counterproductive for the US to expand its economic and political advantages over China by disrupting normal academic exchanges.

Washington's latest move can easily backfire. According to the Bloomberg, when the Senate raised a proposal to give closer federal scrutiny of donations to US institutions of higher education from overseas, the bill was eventually watered down when it was included in broader legislation to enhance US competitiveness after colleges and universities complained that its requirements would be onerous and ultimately harmful to US innovation.

China, on the other hand, has been promoting its technological development through its own efforts. Although the development of international cooperation in scientific research will accelerate China's progress, if US political forces try to curb the development of China's science and technology through this approach, it is doomed to fail.

Take the latest bill in the US congress as an example, it's actually nothing new in the volatile world of US politics. Similar attempts to target China have been repeatedly taken by US politicians in almost all areas, but none of the blockade and restrictions has been proved to be effective to halt China's progress, instead it is hurting the US' interests.

If Congress in turn passed the bill to bar scientists and academics from participating in US-funded research projects, in other words, it's essentially pushing international talent to pick sides between China and the US, and China is more attractive comparing with the US in this regard.

First, China has steady strategy to boost scientific and technology development, which will provide promising prospects for talent. Compared with the US policy environment, China has created a more open and inclusive policy environment. 

Second, China's scientific and technological strength is constantly rising, and research and development (R&D) investment is constantly increasing. In 2019, China's R&D expenditure reached 2.21 trillion yuan ($341 billion), and the R&D intensity was about 2.23 percent, exceeding the EU average.

The author is deputy director of the Center for American Studies, Fudan University.

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