US Looks To ‘Cripple’ Chinese Military Tech By Scrapping Decades-Old Science & Technology Pact With Beijing

After implementing chip export restrictions that China has already decried as unfair, the US Congress could now start mulling the scrapping of a key science and technology agreement with Beijing to restrict its military and technological advances.

US Republican lawmakers have urged Congress not to renew the four-decade-old US-China agreement on Science and Technology cooperation, arguing that the Chinese government could exploit the deal to support its military. They claim the knowledge accrued by Beijing threatens American interests.

The Science and Technology Agreement (STA) was signed when Beijing and Washington established diplomatic relations in 1979 and has since been extended roughly every five years.

It has paved the way for the two countries to cooperate in fields ranging from atmospheric and agricultural science to fundamental physics and chemistry research.

However, the agreement, slated to expire on August 27 this year, has raised concerns about China’s expanding military might and theft of American scientific and commercial achievements. The appeal was made when bilateral and trade relations between the two superpowers had already hit the nadir.

The chairman of the US House of Congressmen Select Committee on China, Mike Gallagher, and nine other Republican congressmen argued against the arrangement in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The committee was established in January and focused on the economic and security competition with Beijing.

The US House of Congressmen select committee chairman on China, Mike Gallagher.

Concerns were raised in the letter regarding joint work on “instrumented balloons” between the US and China’s Meteorological Administration and more than a dozen US Department of Agriculture projects with Chinese organizations, which included technologies with “clear dual-use applications,” such as methods to analyze satellite and drone imagery for irrigation management.

They cited the incident from February this year when Beijing was accused of “surveilling US military sites on US territory” using a “balloon technology” identical to that created by the China Meteorological Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US as part of an STA project.

In addition, the legislators charged Beijing with deploying “academic researchers, industrial espionage, forced technology transfers, and other tactics to gain an advantage in critical technologies, which in turn fuels the People’s Liberation Army modernization.”

The lawmakers made a case against the extension of the agreement by arguing that “The PRC (People’s Republic of China) uses academic researchers, industrial espionage, forced technology transfers, and other tactics to gain an edge in critical technologies, which in turn fuels the People’s Liberation Army modernization.”

“The United States must stop fueling its destruction. Letting the STA expire is a good first step,” they added.

Supporters of the agreement claim that without it, the US would lose important information on China’s technological advancements. However, many commentators believe that the pact needs to be fundamentally revised to protect American innovation in a period of increased strategic competition with China.

On its part, China has already been reeling under the pressure of the chip export ban Washington imposed in October last year. Chinese analysts have lamented these decisions, calling them “technological wars” initiated by the United States. If the STA is not extended, one more item will be added to the list of actions classified as technological warfare against Beijing.

Chip Ban About To Get Worse For China

Citing unnamed informed sources, The Wall Street Journal reported that the US is considering new restrictions on exports of artificial intelligence chips to China, triggering a fall in shares of companies like Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices, plummeting almost instantly.

According to the report, the Commerce Department would cease sending chips made by Nvidia and other chip manufacturers to consumers in China as early as July.

Despite the dissent of these chip makers, the US administration has made no bone of the fact that it wants to clamp down on the export of certain advanced chips that they contend have military applications and are used in systems that threaten the United States and its allies.

Semiconductors, an essential component of almost all electronic devices, have become a significant battleground in the dispute between Washington and Beijing over access to critical technology. These chips are used in various systems, from fighter jets to mobile phones to home appliances like refrigerators.

joe biden xi jinping
Xi Jinping & Joe Biden (Twitter)

However, due to the unanticipated rise of the Chinese military and rising tensions with the United States and its regional allies, Washington has made concerted efforts to curb the supply of any equipment that could contribute to China’s military advances.

This has become even more stringent in the face of China-US tensions over the lingering Taiwan issue.

In October 2022, the United States initiated export control measures for semiconductor chips directed at China amid escalating hostilities between the two arch-rivals. According to the Biden administration, the choice was motivated by a need to lessen the harm to the American chip industry.

Although Chinese officials have decried these export bans as exploitative, unfair, and reeking of a US zero-sum game mindset, the situation has only worsened with countries like The Netherlands and now Japan coming up with similar decisions to curb Chinese military, as recently reported by EurAsian Times.

President Xi Jinping’s administration views the chips as essential tools in its struggle for wealth and power on a global scale as well as in its strategic conflict with the United States. Chinese officials, thus, have continually appealed to these countries to lift the bans.

As for the STA, officials in Beijing want to renew the agreement and have publicly stated that they contacted Washington last year to discuss doing so. However, Washington has been reviewing the deal. Earlier this month, the State Department refused to comment on “internal deliberations on negotiations.”