Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Should the US try to keep China's technology from advancing?

This blog first appeared in online Asia Times.

A number of commentators, including Asia Times’own Pepe Escobar, have suggested that the trade war started by the Trump Administration is not about IP theft or unfair trade but about not losing the technology race with China.

Escobar believes Trump is feeling threatened by China’s stated goals to become the world leader in 10 fields of technology by 2025. CNBCagrees though more narrowly focused on who will win the 5G development, the technology that will control the next generation of mobile Internet.

One way to slow China down is to grant one-year visas to students from China wishing to continue their graduate studies in the US. Since most PhD programs take 4 to 5 years to complete, having to renew their visa every year and subject to arbitrary rejection would discourage some from applying to American universities. 

The visa processing at the US consulates in China has also gotten murky lately. PhD researchers planning to present their research findings at national technical conferences in the US are finding the visa approval process delayed without explanation. In some cases by the time they have their visa, it was too late to attend the conference.

Folks like FBI Director Christopher Wray and Senator Marco Rubio might privately snicker and applaud these tactics as ways of deterring “non-traditional” intelligence collection; the actual consequences will be more seriously damaging to US national interest.

American universities need STEM students from China

Every year, about one third of international students coming to America for graduate studies are from China. Most the students from China major in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics.) Graduates of these majors are most needed for the US to maintain its technology leadership and these are the same majors that born and raised in America kids find too challenging and thus avoid.

Graduate schools of major universities depend on students from China to staff their research programs and uphold the quality of work. Without them, many of the graduate schools would shrivel and survival becomes problematic.

The claim that tens of thousands of students from China are sent to spy is nonsense and comes from xenophobia. Graduate research advances the boundary of human knowledge. Such research does not get involved in militarily sensitive or national security related work unless the researchers qualify for appropriate levels of clearance. 

Often overlooked is that in the past, most of these students, upon completion of their advanced degrees have remained in the US to work. Silicon Valley would be a mere shadow of itself if Chinese with advanced technical degrees did not choose to accept positions at Apple, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft and others.

Just a bit over ten years ago, Don Pryzbyla, the FBI special agent in charge of Silicon Valley, said in a BBC interview that his enormous challenge was to keep track of around a hundred thousand Chinese working in the Bay Area because they were all potential spies for China.

As if buying Pryzbyla’s line of thinking, the Trump administration is now figuring out different ways of discouraging Chinese from remaining in the US but pushing them back to China. Instead of sticking around to add to America’s edge in technology, they will contribute to China’s instead. How smart is that?

Racial bias also hurt Americans with Asian ancestry

America’s racial discrimination doesn’t just apply to students from China, but ethnic Asians with American citizenship feel the same sting. As a recent studyrevealed, Chinese Americans are especially susceptible to false arrest, accused of espionage, spend time in jail and then have charges dropped or dismissed.

Unfortunately for the Chinese Americans victimized by such incidents of false arrest, they almost never receive compensation for the damage done to their reputation and career. They simply do not get justice.

Sherry Chen is the latest example of atrocious miscarriage of justice. She was arrested, put in jail and accused of spying for China. Before her arrest, she was an award-winning hydrologist working for the National Weather Service. After the charges were dropped, the Department of Commerce (has oversight over NWS) would not let her go back to work.

With the support of the Asian American community, Chen took her case before the Merit Systems Protection Board, the judiciary body that addresses complaints from Federal employees. Historically, MSPB ruled in favor of the plaintiff less than 2% of the time. Yet Chen won. The presiding judge wrote a 135-page opinion that overwhelmingly ruled in her favor.

This should have been the bitter sweet, happy ending for Chen but it was not to be. Despite a letter from a Congressional Caucus and a letter from over 130 Asian American organizations to Commerce Secretary Ross urging rectification for Chen, the DOC spokesperson said on June 18 that DOC would appeal the MSPB decision.

The DOC announcement gave no new arguments that would justify the cynical decision to appeal. 

With the bench lacking appointments to replace missing members, the DOC knows that the MSPB panel does not have enough judges to form a quorum and rule on the appeal. It will be years before the appeal could be heard. In the meantime, Chen will not get her job back, not get her back pay and will remain in limbo.

Sherry Chen is totally in the right but because she is a Chinese American, justice is not served. That’s the way it is in America.

Chinese American kids punch way above their weight

However, if America hopes to maintain its technological edge over China for the years to come, Congress and the Federal government need to face an inconvenient reality. Asian Americans make up less than 6% of the population but earn over 25% of all the STEM PhDs awarded in America every year.

A recent article in the New Yorkerreported that Asian students make up 16% of the public school student body but occupy 62% of the enrollment to the elite high schools of New York City. Admission to those schools is based on competitive test scores.

These Asian kids live in the same ghettos and are as poor and disadvantaged as their black and brown brethren but they are brought up differently. Asian parents scrimp and save to make sure that their children get the best possible education and they regularly remind their kids that education is their ticket out of poverty.

Rather than wrinkle their white noses at the supposed personality flaws of Asian kids, America needs to encourage their development and not penalize them by depriving them of opportunities for superior higher education.

We now live in a world of fast developing and ever changing frontier in technology. It’s time the American white mainstream abandon century old racial bias against Asian Americans and reconcile the reality that the future of America will need every one of these Asian American kids to realize his/her full potential.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

How will the trade war started by the US end?

First posted on Quora.

It will end when Trump hears enough complaints from (1) American farmers who suddenly have all kinds of harvest ready for export but no place to sell to, (2) American consumers who find prices on everyday goods increase by 15 to 25%, and (3) American multinational corporations with locations all around the world telling him that tariff on intermediary goods they make or buy and tariff on final products they export are killing their bottom line.

At that point when the voices of discontent are sufficiently loud and because Trump is not tone deaf, he will declare, possibly with China’s complicity, that he has won the trade war and is calling an end to the war.