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The “small courtyard” and “high wall” of the United States’ science and technology strategy towards China

The "small courtyard" and "high wall" of the United States' science and technology strategy towards China

Overlooking the Kennedy Space Center from the air

The expert group on Sino-US technology relations under the “China Task Force” of the U.S. Congress released a long policy report “How to deal with China’s challenges: a new strategy for U.S. technological competition” in November, which shows that the United States has begun to oppose the comprehensive technology embargo policy against China under the Trump administration.

As the election results settle, the United States is about to usher in a change of government, and the report may reveal the new thinking of the United States on China’s technology policy in the next few years.

On the one hand, the new government will strengthen the “defense” of China in the field of science and technology, from the one-size-fits-all blockade mode in the Trump era to the precise strike mode of “small courtyard high walls”; on the other hand, the new government will strengthen the “offensive” against China in the field of science and technology, ensure the global position of the United States in the high-tech field, and ensure its leadership over China.

Accurate strategy of “small courtyard high wall”

In October 2018, Sam Sachs, a senior researcher at the New America think tank, pioneered a new strategy for scientific and technological defense against China, “small courtyard high walls”.

The courtyard wall was originally a military defense concept, which originally referred to the U.S. space defense strategy proposed by Obama-era Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

A group of American scholars, represented by Saxophone and Loland Raske, believe that Trump’s comprehensive technology blockade of China is like building a huge wall in the whole high-tech field and cutting off all links between China and the United States in the high-tech field, but the effect is not ideal.

First, with the existing human and material resources of the U.S. regulatory agencies, it is difficult to effectively screen and block. Second, the restrictions on China also cause collateral damage to the United States, because the scientific and technological integration of the United States and China far exceeds the Trump administration’s assessment.

As two technology-leading powers, China and the United States have firmly built a scientific and technological innovation ecosystem. The United States also needs cooperation from China in research, supply chain, talent and investment. The forced separation of China and the United States in the field of science and technology can only be counterproductive and may even have devastating results.

Therefore, Sachs believes that the construction of high walls in the “small courtyard” helps regulators more effectively screen harmful activities within the “small courtyard” while reducing collateral damage to adjacent high-tech fields.

After more than two years of academic discussion and congressional debate, the “small courtyard high wall” strategy has gradually become a scientific and technological defense strategy against China respected by the U.S. Congress, and has been explicitly adopted in the above-mentioned report. The report originated from the China-US Science and Technology Relations Working Group, composed of 29 Chinese issues and science and technology experts from American academia, industry and think tanks, completed the report after a year of deliberation and research.

The report states that the United States needs to clarify specific areas of technology and research (i.e., “small courtyards”) directly related to the national security of the United States and to delineate appropriate strategic boundaries (i.e., “high walls”).

The core technology in the courtyard should adopt a stricter and stronger blockade of science and technology to China, but the United States can reopen to China for other high-tech fields other than the “small courtyard”.

However, the United States does not have a clear plan at present what is the scope of the “small courtyard”. In his testimony in the Senate in 2019, Sachs proposed that high-tech and emerging technologies that meet the three major standards should be included in the control of the “small courtyard”.

The report of the China-US Working Group on Science and Technology Relations agreed with this and believed that these standards could be used as a starting point for further discussion. These three criteria are: these technologies are vital to the military; China’s relatively lack of knowledge of this technology; and the United States is indeed at the forefront of the development of this technology.

In October 2020, the National Security Council released the List of Key Technologies and Emerging Technologies, a total of 20 categories, including advanced computing, advanced conventional weapons technology, human-computer interaction, medical and public health, quantum computing, chips, space technology, etc.

The earlier version is the 14 categories of export control emerging technologies released by the Industrial Security Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce in December 2018, including biotechnology, artificial intelligence and machine learning, positioning and navigation, chips, etc.

In these two versions, chips, aerospace, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, data analysis and storage, and biology are six overlapping fields, which are likely to become the focus of U.S. scientific and technological defense against China.

Compared with “small courtyards”, the “high wall” strategy is clear, mainly with three main means: multilateral export control, restricting China’s investment in American technology, and restricting Chinese people’s access to sensitive laboratories.

In 2018, the Export Control Reform Act enacted by the United States explicitly proposed to restrict the export of “emerging and basic technologies”.

But the United States found that multilateral export controls need to be strengthened, the existing Wassenaar Agreement was amended, and allies and partner countries needed to participate in the high-tech blockade against China were to achieve the existing goals.

In terms of restricting investment in China, in 2018, Trump signed the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, which allows the U.S. Foreign Investment Commission (CFIUS) to review the investment of state-backed funds in emerging U.S. technology companies and veto China in the name of “national security”. Investment.

In addition, universities and laboratories in the United States will strictly review researchers and prohibit Chinese citizens from participating in scientific research in related fields of “small hospitals”.

Colleges and universities will also take measures to transfer highly sensitive research to national laboratories with strict safety management. Congress will also require higher education institutions to properly disclose the personal information of those involved in sensitive technology research to prevent Chinese citizens from circumventing the initial visa security checks.

The United States wants to ensure that technology is ahead of China.

The American elite has repeatedly emphasized in recent years that America’s achievements in the field of science and global leadership have made the prosperity, security and American way of life today.

However, the leadership of the United States in high-tech and key technology fields faces China’s increasingly powerful challenges.

In the new version of the United States National Security Strategy Report, key technologies and emerging technologies are recognized as areas of vital importance to national security. At present, the biggest concern of the United States is that if China surpasses the United States in key technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum technology, the national security, economic development, competitiveness and the way of life of the United States will change significantly.

Therefore, the next scientific and technological policy of the United States towards China is not only a simple defensive battle, but also an offensive battle.

The United States will strive to ensure that the federal government continues to play a leading role in high-tech and key technologies, increase investment in research, promote private sector partnerships, strengthen policy innovation, and reduce regulatory barriers.

According to the policy report of the U.S. Congressional China Task Force, the key areas of U.S. technology attack on China will be artificial intelligence, 5G wireless communication, quantum information science, driverless vehicles, network security and biotechnology.

At the same time, in order to continue to maintain its innovative advantages in China, the U.S. government will increase its investment in cultivating a competitive domestic talent team in the United States.

Relevant studies in the United States have found that the number of mainland students preparing to apply for degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and other related disciplines continues to shrink.

Over the past few decades, college fees have also risen faster than inflation, increasing the risk of students’ debt. In the U.S. job market, the employment rate and salary level of students majoring in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and so on are not high.

The U.S. government is aware of the need to increase funding support to provide more scholarships for national students in these majors, cooperate with state governments and employers in the job market to provide more continuing education and training opportunities for employees, and improve the STEM capabilities of the American workforce.

Analysts agree that after Biden’s new administration comes to power, Sino-US relations may stabilize strategically, but deeper conflicts between the two sides in the field of technology will not stop.

In view of the new ideas of the United States’ science and technology policy towards China, China must attach great importance to it and seriously prepare to deal with it.

It should be pointed out that although the new thinking of the United States’ science and technology policy towards China will not fundamentally change its strategy of science and technology competition with China, the scope, manner and logic of its competition will be different from that of the Trump administration, and there is still a lot of room for China to do in the competition between the two countries in the field of science and technology.

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