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US–China commercial espionage will crush prospects for technology cooperation

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TECHNOLOGY has become a new battlefield in US–China relations. But it could also be an arena for immense cooperative possibility if the framework underpinning two-way technology flows is fair, equitable and reciprocal. There should be no space to secure under-handed advantages via cyber-enabled intellectual property (IP) theft. Fair competition and technology cooperation are two sides of the same coin.

In this regard, the course of US–China trade and investment relations in the decade ahead could well hinge upon two events set just hours apart at the turn of November 2018.

On 1 November, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the establishment of a China Initiative within the Department of Justice to combat Chinese economic espionage.

US accusations of China’s state-linked, cyber-enabled economic theft are as long-standing as China’s ‘indigenous innovation’ plans, starting with the 2005 Medium-and-Long Term Science and Technology Development Plan.

SEE ALSO: Could the Huawei arrest threaten Trump’s trade truce?

In the early 2010s, an unprecedented wave of top-dollar outbound investments into firms in the United States and Europe was accompanied by a less-virtuous endeavour to gain unauthorised access to commercially-valuable proprietary information — including trade secrets — in a number of high-value manufacturing sectors.

To put a stop to this theft, former US president Barrack Obama extracted a commitment from President Xi in September 2015 that China would refrain from cyber-enabled IP theft for commercial advantage.

Judging that the 2015 commitment was not being honoured, Sessions and his successors have — since 1 November 2018 — brought a string of trade-secret theft cases against Chinese........

© Asian Correspondent