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Congress Bans Some Scientific Collaboration with China, Citing Espionage Risk (forbes.com)
134 points by trotsky on May 8, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments



It is unclear to me how this ban will incentivize China to stop spying on the US. If anything, it might lead to more espionage to make up for the information flow lost to the ban.

Also, the statement from congressman Wolf "we have nothing to gain from dealing with them" seems to contradict the very purpose of a collaboration - I'm yet to see a scientific collaboration that goes only one way.

As with most embargoes, both sides will probably lose.

A more reasonable response might be to engage with US companies and technology hubs to improve their defenses.


You don't understand espionage. You don't incentivize a country to not spy; you make it hard as hell for them to steal your secrets. And, who cares about incentivizing China? We should continue to find ways to make it harder for China to rip off our technology. This is a brilliant move against an outwardly adversarial country and I hope it continues.


Very bizarre statement. If your super fancy technology that Chinese just aren't smart enough to come up with on their own (xenophobia much?) needs to scale you're going to be sending it to China for manufacturing anyway. The sooner we get rid of this cave man "us vs. them" mentality the better.


It isn't that they aren't "smart" enough -- it's that there is no culture of innovation. The best and brightest are running tech startups -- they work for the military and police apparatus. Come to China, find some "innovations." The last Chinese invention of any significance was gunpowder. Have a look a Baidu, Maxthon and the warehouses full of copycat iPads. Look at their cars, military machinery -- most of their military equipment is Soviet retreads or reverse-engineered US stuff. The Chinese are dangerous because there is no end to their industrial and scientific aggression. When a US company wants to do business in China, they are forced to take Chinese "partners." The US side of the office does the work and the Chinese side simply copies and sends the information onward. There is no such thing as a trade secret for a foreign company in China.

The culture is entrepreneurial, but it isn't one of invention, it's one of doing something someone else has done and doing it cheaper and at a lower quality. Come to China -- you'll see. There are some good things in China, but they are the exception that proves the rule.


I somehow fail to see the difference between incentivizing a country not to spy and making it “hard as hell” to spy. Isn’t that the same?

I’m also, like the grandparent, a bit unsure how this is an appropriate measure. Are scientific collaborations used for espionage? If they are not or seldom used for espionage, how does a ban on collaboration result in less espionage? Which benefits of collaboration does the US relinquish?


>Isn’t that the same?

No. You can't incentivize a country not to spy because that implies some control, some carrot. Making it "hard as hell" is treating the contest with the adversarial framework it deserves, taking for granted that the opponent will or could attack.

>Which benefits of collaboration does the US relinquish?

The honest answer is, none, some, or all of them; and it doesn't matter. Being a political action it is just as much a political statement. China openly gets away with espionage (and openly gets away with putting enough spin on its public statements to make a new neutron star.) Congress is openly saying it doesn't like that.

Not to mention that your string of questions is dependent on the if statements resolving 'correctly.' Honestly I'd be very surprised if scientific collaborations weren't used for espionage.


I'm not sure how incentives and your fabled "adversarial framework" are incompatible. I'm also not sure why you think that incentives have to be carrots. Good detection rates and harsh punishments successfully create an incentive against murder without any carrots in sight.

No matter, we're gonna make tons of money by working together with the Chinese, have fun with your protectionism, USA.


Exactly. I think this move is great... for the rest of the world.


Title is misleading. The clause prevents some sources of federally funded science from collaborating with China.

"The clause prohibits the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from coordinating any joint scientific activity with China."

That said, this seems pretty crazy to me.


We ban NASA from collaborating with China, meanwhile NASA collaboration in the past with the Soviet Union and Russia has proved very beneficial (scientifically and politically).


While Russia has tons of innovations on aerospace, what about China?


It launched people into orbit, hasn't it? It's been much more successful than India, for instance. But you're right that compared to Russia its accomplishments are fewer. Perhaps it's just a matter of time.


It's been much more successful than India

I will appreciate some data here!


Mars doesn't tell nearly the whole story, but this sticks out in my mind as an interesting infographic, notably devoid of any "India" lines. http://cache.gizmodo.com/assets/images/4/2009/10/GoCGR.jpg


Note that China's mention is with Russia in that info-graphic. And here is the wikipedia page of that mission which clearly states that Chinese Mars obiter will be sent with Fobos-Grunt. While I don't discredit China of that but its a different thing to launch a satellite as opposed to sending your satellite on vehicle launched by some other country. FYI:

India's 'independent' mars mission is not far - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Space_Research_Organisat...

India's moon mission was the first one to prove the presence of water on moon - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandrayaan-1#Water_discovered_...


People in the US used to (and still do) commonly say similar things about the russians.


What, that the Russians haven't innovated in aerospace?


Yes. Obviously that is false, but you still hear people say it.


That's amazing - not only because of the obvious history (Sputnik, Gagarin etc.) but also because of the fantastic ongoing success of their launch vehicles - Arianespace will be starting to launch medium loads from Guiana later this year using Soyuz launchers (in addition to the Ariane 5 heavy launcher and the Vega lightweight launcher):

http://www.arianespace.com/launch-services-soyuz/soyuz-intro...


For example, KITP in Beijing has some excellent Chinese astronomers. I am sure they can have collaborations with NASA scientists that would be mutually beneficial.

I realize this is not aerospace, but NASA is not just aerospace.


As written the policy can be read as very far reaching, banning for example NASA from sending anyone to a scientific conference at which a Chinese national or employee of a Chinese company is also attending. it would also ban them from buying anything from a Chinese company other than ordering off-the-shelf parts.


That's not what the wording of the linked article indicates. Do you know more information on this that supports your interpretation?

Because your interpretation would prevent anyone from NASA attending, for example, the American Geophysical Union conferences, which is ridiculous.


> the Obama Administration has taken the position that the ban does not apply to any U.S. scientific interactions with China conducted as part of foreign policy. This interpretation will likely allow the President to continue current activities until the spending bill expires in October.

Not if the American Geophysical Union conferences were declared to be part of a foreign policy initiative by the White House.


I agree: from reading the title I thought that companies and individuals were banned also.


If you follow the hacking over the last few years in relation to China, a clear pattern emerges: China wants United States IP. It's about time someone started taking that threat seriously in the US.


Good luck with that. The British didn't manage to keep the Germans from getting their technology in the 19th century.


You may notice that Israel has stolen more intellectual property worldwide than China.

But bashing China is fashionable.


How much more IP has Israel stolen than China?


Israel doesn't have a habit of threatening US interests. Israel didn't attempt to shoot down our aircraft and hold our aircrews hostage. Israel isn't threatening Taiwan, propping up North Korean dictators or funneling weapons to Darfur. Israel is actually a partner in security as opposed to an opponent. Israel isn't manipulating currency or holding world financial markets hostage. I guess Israel bashing is fashionable. By the way, you have no evidence that Israel has stolen more IP than China -- that's just a nonsensical claim.


"Israel didn't attempt to shoot down our aircraft and hold our aircrews hostage."

But they did attack US Navy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Liberty_incident

"Israel isn't threatening Taiwan"

But they do threaten and attacked their neighbours. By the same token, China is not threatening Syria.

"propping up North Korean dictators or funneling weapons to Darfur"

Israel is one of the biggest arms dealers in the world, and a lot of those weapons go to the hands of various dictators, e.g. in Africa.


I say it's at least 2 years too late. China has taken the Military and Industrial tech it needed to get up to speed and is now innovating without us.


I don't understand why this is bad. Don't you want China to innovate on their own?


I don't because I am not chinese and will not share in the wealth of such enterprising behaviour. You can never become a chinese citizen unless you are born there. Never.


>I don't because I am not chinese and will not share in the wealth of such enterprising behaviour.

So you want them to remain poor and primitive just because you can't cash in on their success? That's... not very nice.


Life is cruel. You have one piece of toilet paper. Will you use it for yourself or give to a stranger?


Except it isn't and we have more than one piece of toilet paper. China innovating doesn't hurt you. In fact it could help just like collaborating with the Russians helped our space program in the past.


The resources of the world are finite (as is it's energy allowance), so i'm afraid that toilet paper supply is indeed limited. You're about to see this in a very real way as food prices dramatically increase in the following years.


Perhaps, but the best way to deal with it would to work together. Not wasting resources fighting each other.


Heh, so are we going to kick out their students which we've enrolled in some of our top research universities?


That would be counter productive, what we are trying to do in infiltrate their intellectual elite and put people with our liberal views in place. MOuahahahahahaa.

This protectionist stuff is stupid. I collaborate with people in China on some of my work and one of them started the project I'm developing right now I'm just expanding the project and making it more generic. Lucky for me, the Canadian Gov is the one funding this project.


If you're trying to claim that giving Chinese youth student visas to study at elite western universities will create a more liberal, pro-western intelligentsia in China, you are flatly wrong.

The Chinese who come here (to the US) are part of the growing Chinese middle- and upperclass and tend to be the most nationalistic of all. Talk to them next time you get a chance; ask them what they think of democracy and freedom, and they'll likely spout PRC government propaganda about how the "Chinese people need to be controlled." We make them into scientists and engineers without succeeding, and perhaps without even really attempting, to make them democrats. We are potentially creating big problems for ourselves and our western and east Asian allies down the road by equipping China with the skilled professionals it needs to produce the weapons of war to threaten the free world.

As for protectionism, if it really bothers you, perhaps you should complain about China's "luxury tax" (import duty) and government-mandated technology transfers for access to their production and consumer markets. China is easily the most protectionist member of the G20.


Regarding Chinese who will "likely spout PRC government propaganda", though there are possibly Chinese students who think this way, the ones that I've met (well over 40 students, and not all from one particular group to allow for some randomness and a slightly better sample of the general population) do not think this way. They do not believe the Chinese government is the ultimate form of government, and none of them felt that the "Chinese people need to be controlled". They value the same freedoms the forefathers of America valued, and they would like to see some of America's liberties in China as well. Given that, they don't believe that America's government is significantly better either, but at least they aren't blinded by the Chinese government's propaganda. Remember, today's youth has access to many sources of information. They aren't in cocoons, shielded from outside opinions. The "Great Firewall" isn't as effective as the American media would like you to think it is.


equipping China with the skilled professionals it needs to produce the weapons of war to threaten the free world.

Do you think they really need technology? They have a population of plus one billion, and the strongest industrial capacity in the world plus just enough oil reserves. If they wanted to go to war, they could already very well do so as is and cause a really big bloody mess.

Look at Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan. All of us mistakenly believed the US's "superior technology" would make those missions a cakewalk. Technology doesn't win wars. People do. People we can reach.

And its not Germany vs France at the opening of WWII anymore. China already have machine guns, tanks and nukes (the horror if either "side" ever used one in anger). Diplomacy through cultural exchange is the best option we've got to prevent a cold war style escalation - and luckily the openness of both our cultures is the end goal we want to achieve anyway, right?

(apologies to all for the walls of text!)


I used to work with someone from China and, like you say above, she viewed the government as the same kind of benevolent infrastructure provider as I do mine. I think its overambitious to expect someone to completely turn their back on their view of their country in a few months after they have spent 20+ years of their lives in what they see to be a functioning society. It took two hundred plus years after the Enlightenment for all of our oh so Great Countries to finally rid themselves of kings and colonial rule.

As cabalamat says, I don't think there is anything more you can do to teach someone from China about Western values than having them completely immersed in our civilization. Some of our values must be crossing the waters, mustn't they? - if they really are self evidently superior?

I think collaboration is the best we can do - with the scientists and business men themselves, the people that actually matter, who's opinions people over there respect, not through the government. This kind of ban on collaboration hurts that.

There is nothing secret in science anyway. The US governments secrets on the other hand... - I would cynically agree there is always concern there. Both by US people themselves and the Chinese government:)


> I don't think there is anything more you can do to teach someone from China about Western values than having them completely immersed in our civilization

It's not that much immersion. I spend a fair amount of time in a college town, and the Chinese nationals, with very few exceptions, work play and live exclusively with other student visa holders from China.


If, as proponents of Western civilisation argue (and which I personally believe, FWIW), Western ideals of freedom are universal and every society will eventually want them, then by definition some Chinese studying in the West ill pick up some Western ideals.

If the West is wrong about our ideals being universal, then our society is no better than others anyway and it doesn't matter (in the long run for the overall good of humanity) if the Chinese conquer us.


> "If the West is wrong about our ideals being universal, then our society is no better than others anyway and it doesn't matter (in the long run for the overall good of humanity) if the Chinese conquer us."

If our ideals are relative or subjective, wouldn't that make it all the more important to speak out, as to do otherwise would be conceptual-suicide?

Even if other cultures don't hold my values, I still must value them.

I don't disagree about educating foreign students, by the way. Barring empirical evidence to the contrary, my feeling is that exposure to foreign cultures ought to dampen nationalism in the long run.


The fact that working in a sweatshop 16 hours a day at age 6 is a terrible life is not contingent on any particular "western" philosophy being correct.


>by equipping China with the skilled professionals it needs to produce the weapons of war to threaten the free world.

I don't get this constant fear we Americans always have that as soon as a country sees a chance they're going to invade us. Mainland USA hasn't been attacked in more than a century. The only place this irrational fear could possibly come from is assuming other countries will all behave as we do.


Completely correct. The Chinese are fiercely protective. Just try to buy a Harley Davidson in Shanghai. Chinese are the most protectionist country in the G20 without a doubt.


"They are trying to get our technology secrets" is not a valid reason for this policy, since you haven't shown conclusively that it's a bad thing to give them our technology.


You're attempting to apply logic to a government. This can only end in tears.


It seems likely you'd feel differently if it was your IP getting taken.


If it were his IP getting taken, would he really need the government to tell him not to do that?


I could understand if we're not supposed to be giving our launch coordinates to China, but something like an interial navigation system has plenty of uses.

This seems silly overbearing and not likely to effect much change as how China commits espionage is through spies in places like Sandia, not collaborating on science projects. The only difference between our spies and theirs is that ours haven't gotten caught so far.


Great article in the NYT the other day about how these protectionist policies are going to prevent China from investing their massive cash reserves in US ventures: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/business/global/04yuan.htm....


So we cut NASA's budget to basically nothing, then ban them from collaborating with China? These are sad times.


"....On these computers was information about all of the casework I have done on behalf of political dissidents and human rights activists around the world."

Does science collaboration/espionage endanger people's lives?


The quote you cited was not an example of scientific collaboration or espionage. In this case, yes, the espionage probably endangered someone's life, given China's human rights track record.

I see your point, though, and agree that science collaboration is not harmful. However, I think that the article was mainly focusing on Chinese military advancement, as most of the attacks cited in the article were on our military infrastructure. Again, I would say that a more advanced military will endanger people's lives.


If you read the backstory on this, about the attempted hacking of the computers in Congress, it starts to sound similar to the reasons Google stopped censoring google.cn.


It's 2011 and we're still just cave men afraid of our shadows. What rational reason would China have for trying to invade the US? Doing something like that would just piss off the rest of the world and wouldn't solve any problems they have anyway.


It isn't about invasion its about the IP theft and industrial/scientific espionage. The China threat is extremely real, especially in high tech areas. The Chinese version of "collaboration" is "you innovate, we report to Beijing." The Chinese intelligence services are the most active in the world -- they make the KGB look like girl scouts. There's a reason for it. Spend some time doing business in China and you'll understand.


What are you afraid they're going to do? Suddenly they're as advanced as the US and then.... ? If they still can't innovate without us as some claim then nothing will change, their people will just be better off and they'll have gotten there a lot cheaper.

Personally I'd like to see the rest of the world catch up as soon as possible. I don't subscribe to the idea that for us to be happy people somewhere halfway around the world need to be miserable.


I submitted a piece from Physics Today to HN [1] a few days ago. The article describes how the scientific interaction between the US and China helped the Chinese nuclear program.

For the record, I do not think the benefits from such a wide ban is worth the price. IMHO banning Chinese visitors from NASA facilities is a terrible idea. Why make it so wide? I cannot help but think this decision is driven by some desire for "punishment", which is not logical at all.

1: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2518011


If we don't share, won't they just break in to get it?


Is it really possible to hack all these heavy files on super secret(isolated) computers from abroad?


Does it make any difference for China sitting on a pile of $3 trillion reserves?


Cold War 2.0 China edition.


I hope we win this one, too.


Their economy is headed for a significant crisis in the next 5 years. They put on a pretty facade, but it's smoke and mirrors once you get past the empty concrete shells.


somebody got a chance to finally implement their dark deep dreams - wolves, scientific collaboration...




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