Some US legislators want the US-China Science and Technology Agreement, renewed every five years since 1979, to be allowed to expire this month
In 1991, about 25 babies in every 100,000 in the United States were born with spina bifida, a birth defect that can cause paralysis and brain damage. Fifteen years later, the likelihood had fallen by nearly one-third. That so many babies could be spared such a fate was thanks to the simple discovery that folic acid supplements could dramatically reduce the chances of neural tube defects, which cause spina bifida and anencephalus, a rarer condition.
Much has been said about how Chinese-backed research might be ‘stealing’ intellectual property developed by Western scientists. Given the state of geopolitical politics and military development, it is fashionable for politicians, commentators and media personalities to rail against collaborations with Chinese researchers. But as this piece from The Guardian highlights, these collaborations have generated crucial public health benefits in the past. The current situation might mean future collaborations will be that much harder. It is an implication that needs to be more soberly considered and weighed.
Now, such collaboration – which has also led to advances like reductions in air pollution and improved understanding of earthquakes – is under threat. The US-China Science and Technology Agreement, the umbrella framework under which the birth defects study was facilitated, is set to expire on 27 August. The agreement – the first signed after Beijing and Washington normalised relations in 1979 – is normally renewed every five years. But amid growing tensions, the future of US-China scientific collaboration looks uncertain.
US legislators from the select committee on China are urging US secretary of state Antony Blinken to let the deal expire, lest Beijing use it to “advance its military objectives”. Mike Gallagher, the chair of the congressional committee on China, has said that the agreement jeopardises US intellectual property. But scientists argue that such a move would hinder progress on transnational problems.