China and U.S. S&T Cooperation at 30

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Publication date: 
24 April 2009

An overflow audience gathered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on the evening of April 13, to discuss the future of science and technology cooperation between the United States and The Peoples Republic of China.

Alan Leshener, Chief Executive Officer of AAAS and Executive Publisher of Science introduced China’s Vice Minister of Science and Technology, Jianlin Cao to the audience. In his opening remarks Leshener hailed President Barack Obama’s repeated comments on the primacy of science in the policy process, adding that he could not “think of a major issue that doesn’t have science and technology at its core.”

Cao, who spoke through a translator, noted that, “This year marks the 30th anniversary of China-U.S. diplomatic relations. It is also the 30th anniversary of the signing of the China-U.S. science and technology agreement.” Cao added, “The 13th JCM namely China-U.S. Joint Committee Meeting on Science and Technology Cooperation will be held in the U.S. in the later half of this year.” Cao continued, “During the past 30 years we have conducted a batch of important projects through our cooperation. Those projects have exerted a sound foundation for the socioeconomic development, science and technology progress, as well as fundamental research of those countries.” Examples of scientific collaboration between China and the U.S. include China’s “first remote sensing satellite ground station” and the “first high energy physics project, that is the first Beijing Electron Positron Collider.”

Looking forward, Cao suggested that President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao’s congeniality at the recent G20 summit should serve as a model for the 21st century. Cao said that collaboration on a diverse range of issues like energy conservation, environment, joint research and development, and international property rights is possible.

After Cao’s speech, Leshener introduced a panel of experts moderated by the Director of the Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy at AAAS, Norman Neureiter. John Norris, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs with responsibility for the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Mongolia, explained that a new dialog system is being planned that will include science and technology issues. State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton has outlined three broad areas of cooperation to address: the financial crisis, regional hotspots like Iran and Darfur, and climate and energy. At the end of his comments, Norris intoned, “We know there are differences. We want to deal with those frankly, but I think that there’s a lot of prospect for us to make progress on some of these key issues.”

William Colglazier, Executive Officer of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and Chief Operating Officer of the National Research Council (NRC) “[laid] out his bias” saying, “the future of the planet depends in large part on the cooperative relationship between the U.S. and China.” Colglazier said offhandedly, “at some case it drops down to the ‘G2’ countries to provide leadership.” Colglazier went on to describe the history of collaboration between the NAS and its Chinese counterparts.

The final panelist, Eugene Skolnikoff, is Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of “The Elusive Transformation: Science, Technology, and the Evolution of International Politics.” Skolnikoff characterized cooperation between the U.S. and China as being like 'apple pie and motherhood,' “not only is it good, it’s necessary.” Skolnikoff went on to say that the U.S. is no longer the leader in all science and technology fields and international cooperation is a natural outcome of that development. Drawing a distinction from earlier panelists, Skolnikoff cautioned that “there is no issue in which science and technology alone is a decisive,” citing U.S. inaction on the politically contentious topic of global warming.

The concluding moderated question and answer period included discussions on the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and visas woes. Cao, who has a background in optics, bemoaned tough U.S. export controls that prevented China from acquiring lenses for telescopes, and visa restrictions that prevented colleagues from attending meetings in the U.S. Colglazier acknowledged that ITAR was a concern and referenced the NAS “Beyond Fortress America” report (summarized in FYI#11). Skolnikoff also criticized ITAR, saying that it was responsible for “almost destroy[ing] the satellite communications industry in the U.S. and has certainly been a barrier for many foreign students and foreign scientists to work in companies in the U.S.”

The AAAS event may be viewed here.

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