ChinAI #99: Chinese Reactions to NIH probe results

Plus, momentum toward more DC think tank transparency?

Greetings from a land where the house don’t fall when the bones are good…

…as always, the archive of all past issues is here and please please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay support access for all AND compensation for awesome ChinAI contributors).

Feature Translation: Reactions to NIH report on investigation of scientists’ foreign ties

This week’s feature translation bounces off a recent must-read CSET Media Reaction Brief, authored by Emily Weinstein and Dahlia Peterson, on Chinese Reactions to the U.S.’s proclamation that “forbids the entry of graduate students or researchers who have past or current affiliations with Chinese entities that ‘implement or support’ China’s military-civil fusion (军民融合; or MCF) strategy.”

It’s a really neat approach to looking at the response of :

  1. the Chinese government (critical but relative muted)

  2. Chinese experts (uncertain about which entities qualify)

  3. Study abroad consultancies (some state that Chinese students will go to EU, UK, and other countries instead of US; others say US will remain welcoming to Chinese students)

Let’s take a look at the reactions of a different group of people (relatively informed netizens) on a related subject: a recently released readout of the NIH investigation into undisclosed foreign ties by scientists.

CONTEXT: In a departure from the “never read the comments” world we live in, the comments section of a 6/13 zhishifenzi article illuminates some of key throughlines of Chinese discourse on Chinese students in the U.S. and tech transfer. ChinAI #46 introduced zhishifenzi as a media platform dedicated to discussing the state of science in China, founded by three big-shot scholars, Rao Yi, Lu Bai and Xie Yu. Rao Yi, an outspoken figure on these issues, was a faculty member at WashU and Northwestern before taking up the deanship of life sciences at Peking University. The article has been read 100k+ times, and a bunch of my Wechat friends favorited it.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • The article itself was mainly a summary of a Science magazine article about NIH dep. director Lauer’s readout of the NIH investigation on June 12. Though, there were a few framing changes: a) more emphasis on how only 4 percent of scientists were involved with IP transfer issues. “The publication of this report means that the researchers under investigation did not, as previously claimed by the US NIH and FBI, systematically transfer intellectual property rights to China or other countries,” writes yeshuisong; b) some quotes from Rao Yi pushing back on restrictions to scientific collaborations: “If there are competitions, the Olympic Games have shown us how to compete.”

  • Main throughlines from the comments: 1) a fair bit of techno-nationalist and scientific/tech zero-sum competition thinking (see: Jie, Wotainanle); 2) criticism of both the scientists for trying to play both sides AND the talent programs for being ineffective [this is a point rarely brought up in English-language discussions of the topic because it doesn’t fit a neat narrative]; 3) criticism of zhishifenzi for not covering the legal aspects of this issue in enough dept

Here’s my informal translations of the 8 most upvoted comments, as of Saturday June 21 (all screenshots in the full translation):

Jie says: “The scientific research competition between China and the United States cannot be turned into the Olympic Games because it, at its essence, is a competition for global markets and comprehensive national strength. This is an elimination game. The loser doesn’t even get the chance to hug the champion. They can only slide into decline. The Americans have already seen the essence of this, but unfortunately many Chinese are still doing wishful thinking.

Qinghe says, “To be honest, just because China’s talent project funds have been declared, it doesn’t mean that there are many who are doing effective scientific research in China. Some people just set up this so-called “cooperation” to get a sum of money from the Chinese government. Once the money gets into their hands, they just come back to China and hold a meeting/conference and complete the cooperation. I also hope that China can do more strict screening for their talent plans to attract overseas talents to return. 

Thisisyao says: Eating from both sides, and only making a pretence when in China. Please learn from Professor Rao Yi, either come back full-time, or don't come back.

QC: Regardless of who you are -- if you hide from your boss that you are doing another job, your boss won’t be happy.

该用户已胖(This user is already fat) says: “Regarding what Lauer said, ‘Going forward, China should make the Thousand Talents Plan more transparent, the U.S. should be more transparent about its investigations,’ -- this is no use. If you are out to condemn somebody, you can always trump up a charge [欲加之罪何患无辞]. Make preparations for the other side to completely tear off your face and fight a protracted battle.”

Zhanggongshuo says: “In American history, the Chinese are the only ethnic group that have been systematically excluded (from entering). And at that time, it had nothing to do with the (relationship between) the governments. For any group, if you do something (wrong), in the end all the Chinese will have to cover the damage. Since the end of the last century, this pattern has also been reflected in the relationship between the two countries.”

Zifeiyu says: “All along, I have liked the zhishifenzi (The Intellectual) Wechat public account, but I was disappointed by the content and topic of this article. I was thinking about switching the topic, for instance: analyzing the results of America’s investigation of the relevant scientists through a legal perspective. Isn’t that better?”

Wotainanle comments, “when scientific research meets politics...it’s hard to explain in a few words. American has already taken the knife against our throats, wanting to destroy us. Even if your comprehensive strength is not that of America’s, you still need to clench your teeth and stand firm, go all out to block this knife back, for once you admit defeat, they will take the knife and directly chop off your neck. Under these conditions, many Chinese people engage in wishful thinking and believe that as long as we admit defeat, American will let this knife go. Now we see this type of thinking is truly intolerable.


Lastly, in the full translation, I threw up some screenshots of top Twitter comments that linked to the same Science magazine article — for a very unscientific comparison. Here’s one from Sen. Portman gives a flavor of the general reaction. The different angles are interesting, with the Twitter reactions focusing so much on IP transfer and espionage, which wasn’t really a point of emphasis in most of the zhishifenzi comments.

FULL TRANSLATION: Reactions to NIH Investigation Results -- Latest report: 54 Professors Lose their Jobs in the US, mainly of Chinese ethnicity, and very few transfer IP

ChinAI (Four to Forward)

Should-read: SMIC bets on Shanghai listing — by Yuan Yang and Nian Liu for FT

Great overview of SMIC’s current situation. “Technology wise, SMIC is at least five years away from TSMC,” said Xu Tao, semiconductor analyst at Citic Securities. Last week’s ChinAI covered TSMC’s historical rise, and made similar comparisons with SMIC.

Chart showing revenues, government funding and research and development expenses at China’s SMIC and Taiwan's TSMC


Yuan and Nian also capture a dilemma faced by SMIC: “It remains a question whether Chinese chipmakers such as SMIC will comply if the US Department of Commerce strictly enforces its ban on selling to Huawei. Doing so would not hit SMIC’s sales critically, but would seem to defeat the point of creating a domestic chip champion. But refusing to comply could see it cut from US technology, which is present in all stages of the chip supply chain. SMIC’s largest vulnerability in such a scenario would be its reliance on what are known as EDA tools, the software needed to design chips and turn them into customised sets of instructions for specific plants to carry out, said Velu Sinha, telecoms partner at Bain & Co in Shanghai.”

Should-read: Taiwan funding of think tanks: Omnipresent and rarely disclosed

Eli Clifton for Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft argues: “Hudson may be the most extreme in its policy proposals, but the consistent behavior from the five think tanks [Brookings, Center for American Progress, CNAS, CSIS, Hudson Institute] is unmistakable: General support funding from Taiwan’s government is never disclosed when experts, whose salaries may well be partially funded by TECRO dollars, offer policy recommendations regarding U.S.-Taiwan relations.”

Bonne Glaser' pushed back on the reporting re: CSIS:

Beyond this specific case, I think the American national interest would benefit from more think tank transparency, as Matt Schrader argues for:

Per Transparify’s 2018 report: the only DC think tanks that cover China rated as highly transparent were Stimson Center, New America Foundation, and International Crisis Group (technically HQ-ed in Belgium but has DC office)

Should-read: Politico China Watcher

Edited by David Wertime with contributions from an impressive team at Politico, this new weekly newsletter on US-China relations is really hitting the ground running. Densely packed, comprehensive in coverage, remarkable synthesis of diverse expert voices each week, and a section on “translating China” which looks at what Chinese social media is buzzing about.

Should-read: ChinaFile Conversation on Zoom’s Closures of US-based activist accounts

ChinaFile convened some folks to answer this question: What is the right way to ensure that companies following China’s laws don’t violate the rights of consumers using their products outside of China’s borders? My contribution to the conversation argues: “This focus on protecting people outside of mainland China from Chinese government censorship is too narrow for two reasons. First, it disregards the fact that the Chinese people are the main targets of Zoom-enabled censorship and surveillance. Second, it further reinforces a U.S. human rights approach that wavers according to geopolitical whims.”

Thank you for reading and engaging.

These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a researcher at the Center for the Governance of AI at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

Check out the archive of all past issues here & please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay for a subscription will support access for all).

Any suggestions or feedback? Let me know at chinainewsletter@gmail.com or on Twitter at @jjding99