Now Reading:
Innovation, Especially in Tech, Should Have No Borders
Full Article 5 minutes read

Innovation, Especially in Tech, Should Have No Borders

By Carola McGiffert

The U.S. government through successive administrations has sought to keep China from developing and manufacturing advanced technologies. The wisdom of clamping down on freely flowing trade around the world can be debated, but it would be an academic debate as such policies are either already cemented in law or are about to be.

Often the rationale for limiting technology trade with China is couched in terms of U.S. national security. Protecting national security is imperative, but we can’t let it turn into a march toward economic nationalism.

The place to start is in the realm of new ideas. Innovation should not have borders. Everyone should be encouraged to improve technology – in China, the U.S., and globally. Cooperative information exchanges, especially on scientific matters, should continue and expand. Research scientists have routinely worked together no matter in which country they reside. With appropriate guardrails for national security, such joint thinking and effort needs to continue.

The recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco demonstrated that the U.S. and Chinese governments are trying to improve communications between the two and, where possible, put a ceiling on technology restrictions. The leaders of both countries appear to want to slow the commercial conflict over advanced technologies that has been building for years.

That is wise, especially since tech-related progress cannot proceed in isolation. A new idea in California often needs another invention in, say, Shenzhen, China’s Silicon Valley, to move forward far enough to change lives for the better around the world.

Examples of this kind of cross-border collaboration abound. Take the Nobel Prizes. The winners have routinely labored together across borders. This year’s Nobel for physics, for example, was won by Pierre Agostini of America’s Ohio State University, Ferenc Krausz of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany, and Anne L’Huillier of Lund University in Sweden. American K. Barry Sharpless shared the Novel Prize in Chemistry with Ryoji Noyori of Japan in 2001 and with Morten Meldal of Denmark last year.

Teams of scientists have worked together even if they came from rival nations. In 2003, the Nobel Prize for physics was won by Alexei Abrikosov and Vitaly Ginzburg of Russia and Anthony J. Leggett of Great Britain for their partnership in pioneering work in superconductivity.

Clearly, basic research should be encouraged wherever promising ideas originate. This flexibility should also apply to implementation of those ideas.

Lidars, the laser-based systems that are the eyes of autonomous vehicles, were invented in the U.S. and are manufactured around the world. Semiconductors, also created in America, are a global phenomenon. Many of these are commodities made throughout the world such as the DRAM memory chips produced by China-based CXMT and others. The iconic Apple iPhones, which were developed in the U.S., are manufactured in China and elsewhere. The list goes on.

The Biden administration rightly seeks to limit Chinese technology that could impact U.S. national security. It also wants to use trade barriers and sanctions to discourage the use of forced labor in China. U.S. lawmakers of both political parties agree that actions should be taken against Chinese products and manufacturers that fall into those categories.

Recognizing the danger of allowing the transfer of American know-how from private-equity and venture-capital firms to Chinese high-tech companies, the Biden administration has issued an executive order that seeks to restrict U.S. investments into industries that could give China a global advantage over the U.S. and its allies: quantum computing, semiconductors, and artificial intelligence.

But such restrictions can cause harm if they are overbroad. Take commodity DRAM semiconductors. These chips are a commonplace high-tech product used largely in consumer, not military, products such as smart phones, video game consoles, personal computer memory modules, servers, automobiles, and advanced home appliances. DRAM chips are basic to scientific research and restricting them could thwart U.S. innovation efforts.

Policies that overreach could lead the world’s top engineers and executives to be forced to choose whether to work in the U.S. or in China, but not both, hurting innovation. Some of the proposed new rules also will incentivize the establishment of separate supply chains for integrated circuits – one in China, another in the West – an outcome that will slow growth and discovery.

Competition between Washington and Beijing isn’t going anywhere but the two sides should agree to take off the table restrictions on innovation that benefit them both.

Carola McGiffert was a Senior Advisor in the East Asia Bureau at the State Department, a Senior Fellow at CSIS, where she ran the “China Smart Power” initiative; and the CEO of the US-China Strong Foundation.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Input your search keywords and press Enter.