By Denison Smith
Among other things, at Saturday’s G-20 meeting, President Trump reportedly addressed China’s reckless abuse of American creativity and ingenuity.
It is no secret that China likes to copy the United States. In many respects, there’s nothing wrong with this. It is customary for less-developed nations to emulate their wealthier neighbors. Countries have done so for centuries. The problem is that China takes it to a new level.
Beijing short-circuits the entrepreneurial process by either stealing or closely replicating U.S. property, ostensibly to gain a financial advantage by cutting out the costly research and development process and sometimes even to gain a leg up militarily by building off U.S. ideas and designs. Simply put, China does not have angelic motives at heart, and it is important that we recognize so. That is in part why President Trump has imposed hefty tariffs on the nation and threatened to hike them even further, to 25-percent, to protect the intellectual property of American companies, pressuring Beijing into changing its predatory ways.
However, last week, the president had productive talks with China, which recently decided to curtail its 40-percent automobile tariffs on the U.S. and begin negotiating changes to its intellectual property policies. And so, this weekend Trump decided to temporarily freeze the U.S. tariffs at 10 percent, holding back the promised hike at the start of the year.
While I hope I am wrong, I am still not optimistic that, under current conditions, the White House will be happy with the actions China takes over the coming months, primarily as they relate to intellectual property. In large part because of the culture Beijing’s leadership creates, Chinese companies are often repeating offenders, seeming to show no mercy even after signing hefty, multi-million-dollar settlement agreements. So, as the Trump administration plays wait-and-see on the new tariff hikes, they should also begin implementing cautionary measures in the interim to protect U.S interests.
Washington should reduce China’s temptation to cheat the system by sharply curtailing the number of Confucius Institutes – nonprofits affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education – found on American universities. While these institutions’ objectives on paper are to provide courses on the country’s language and culture, analysts have often considered them to be spying arms of the Chinese government. When asked by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on the counterintelligence risk they pose, FBI Director Christopher Wray remarked that, “We do share concerns about the Confucius institutes,” which are “one of many tools that [China takes] advantage of.” And so, it would be wise for Congress to consider passing Sen. Ted Cruz’s Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act of 2018, which will put an end to much of this bad behavior once and for all.
Perhaps even most critically for the sake of our national security, we must use great vigilance in assessing what assets China has its eye on and plan and budget accordingly for our protection. For example, according to Business Insider, a RAND Corporation study made public last week highlights the country’s aim to “rival the United States …, both technologically and strategically, often by mirroring U.S. military capabilities and doctrine.” While this news does not immediately sound of alarm bells for intellectual property theft, it demonstrates a clear knack for copying, underscoring the need to build up the U.S. Air Force for our national security, leaving details as far out of the public’s reach as possible. In September, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson stated her desire to increase the number of operational squadrons from 312 to 286 by 2030 for this very reason. To ensure the U.S. gets bigger and better while China copies its way to the status quo, decision-makers should grant her request without hesitation.
Given that a new Department of Defense report found “China’s space program continues to mature rapidly,” the same rule-of-thumb should occur with NASA. Likely because Beijing is feeling the heat as NASA continues to construct its Space Launch System (SLS), America’s most powerful rocket ever, which will enable important U.S. exploratory missions to Mars and elsewhere with its historic volume, mass capability and design simplicity, China now seems to be mimicking us on that front as well. It is creating a rocket eerily similar to SLS, which is far from ideal since China is already turning space into a warfighting domain. In the past, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., were right to protect the SLS through legislation, but Washington should go even further today. Instead of increasing the value of China’s copying by remaining content with the status quo, America should build SLS faster and better so that no foreign knock-off can competing with it.
In short, while China might be saying the right words now and may even be marrying its rhetoric with some reforms, policymakers cannot afford to lose sight of its duplicitous past and assume that the end of its intellectual property looting is near. While the Trump administration was right to temporarily relax our tariff pressure strategy for their exhibiting of some degree of co-operation, we cannot idly sit by while waiting for their next step. We need to help Beijing succeed in going cold turkey by removing the incentives for continuing to do what they have for so long while protecting our national security in case the effort goes sour. It’s the only sensible thing to do.
Denison Smith is a former assistant attorney general for the state of Idaho, staffer for Sen. James McClure, R-Idaho, and trustee of the Reason Foundation.