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China’s progress is only a ‘national security issue’ if we make it so

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When American Craig Chase recently flew into Nanjing to begin six weeks of experimental treatment for his incurable multiple myeloma cancer, he met with medical scepticism worldwide.

To put it mildly, China does not count among the world’s leaders in medical research, still less in the new and challenging fields of biotech and cell therapy.

But his American doctors today concede that all evidence of his supposedly incurable cancer has gone, and at the most recent gathering of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, world leaders in the biotech field first claimed disbelief, and then excitement.

But for anyone keen to see this breakthrough as evidence of miraculous progress in China’s hi-tech sectors, the oncologists’ conclusions, reported in the Financial Times, were sobering: the company behind this remarkable breakthrough remains an exception. As one doctor noted, most medical researchers in China “are just Xeroxing what we are doing in the US.”

As the US tariff war against China has drawn keen attention to technological progress in China, and whether this amounts to a security challenge to the US, this little vignette provides important balance. It reminds me of the 1997 comment by Britain’s then-consul-general on the future of Hong Kong under Beijing’s sovereign rule. Asked for one word to describe his view, he replied: “Worry.” Asked what he would say if he had two words, he said: “Don’t worry.”

Over recent months, widely divergent views have been expressed about the scale of China’s technology challenge - fanned of course by the Trump administration’s vehement claims that China is jeopardising US national security by means of intellectual property theft, forced tech transfer, sly tech acquisitions, and systemic espionage by Chinese nationals in the US, ranging from students to researchers and business investors.

Fears have been further stirred by Xi Jinping’s “Made in China 2025” industrial policy, even though........

© South China Morning Post