Technology in U.S.-China Relations

Amidst the ongoing U.S.-China trade disputes, technology-related issues have emerged as some of the core points of tension in this bilateral relationship. Specifically, intellectual property protection, Chinese industrial policies that create a competitive edge for domestic industries, and China’s involvement in 5G technology and wireless networks have raised considerable concerns in D.C. and within the international community. At a CSCC panel on Technology Issues in U.S.-China Relations moderated by our Director, Professor Jacques deLisle, experts on this topic shared their varied insights.

Samm Sacks, a Cybersecurity Policy and China Digital Economy Fellow with New America whose research focuses on global information and communication technology (ICT) policy, began the panel discussion with a brief outline of existing tensions. Beyond the Trump administration’s action of placing Huawei on the entity list, which prohibited any U.S. companies from selling any goods to Huawei, and of issuing an executive order that targeted foreign companies beyond Huawei, government agencies have also played an important role in accumulating tensions. The Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA), passed in 2018, expanded the jurisdiction of the Committee on Foreign Investment, an interagency body that reviews national security risks, exercise export controls, issues licenses for technologies. There are two main issues of supply chain security and the regulation of data through the lens of national security.

Zhou Hanhua, a professor of law and Deputy Director in the Institute of Law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, approached the topic by focusing on the politics behind the U.S.-China trade disputes. He highlighted that a major justification for the Huawei ban is the belief that Chinese national security law obligates Chinese companies to engage in espionage for national security and intelligence purposes. This justification was used by the Australian government in 2012 which made it the first country to ban a Chinese company based on this claim. Does Chinese law actually clearly obligate Chinese companies to engage in espionage? Professor Zhou recently wrote a paper in the Beijing Law Review that analyzed this question from a legal perspective, focusing on the Constitution, national security considerations, and legal consequences for companies’ non-compliance. Although he acknowledged that the Chinese Constitution states that “every individual, company, and entity has an obligation to safeguard the security of the country”, he argued that many countries impose this obligation for times of emergency and threats to national security. He further contended that the threat of China’s participation in 5G has been exaggerated by the media, as well as that countries such as Australia used its own beliefs and experiences to make conclusions about Chinese law.

Mark Cohen, a Lecturer in Law at the University of California at Berkeley, provided empirical evidence for recent changes in Chinese law. In August 2017, the U.S. initiated a Section 301 investigation which resulted in a report that dealt with China’s intellectual property enforcement and forced technology transfer. He pointed out that most, if not all, of the U.S.’s requests have been fulfilled since then. Yet, there has rarely been any mention of these positive Chinese law changes by the media. He argued that the U.S. has missed the important task at hand which is to have discussions with Beijing about the implementation of these changes.

This panel discussion provided insights in not only these points of tension, but also broader questions of internet governance, research and academic collaborations, competition and openness which have substantial implications on U.S. policy.


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