Senator Portman: We Must Prevent IP Theft by the Chinese Communist Party

Sen. Rob Portman, (R-Ohio) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, on May 12, 2014. (AP Photo)

By Masooma Haq

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) outlined how his new legislation will help prevent intellectual property theft by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which he said, has been overlooked far too long.

Portman, along with Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member of the permanent subcommittee on investigations (PSI), and other colleagues, are introducing the Safeguarding American Innovation Act to prevent such theft.

The Republican Senator said the CCP has been taking advantage of the openness of American Universities, with strategies like the Thousand Talents Program. This program has been allowed to “systematically target promising research” in the United States.

“They pay these people to take their research that they’re doing here, that is taxpayer-funded—the Chinese government has systematically targeted the most promising U.S. researchers.”

He said that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI are beginning to crack down on such IP theft, because of an investigation conducted by PSI.

PSI’s probe culminated in a surprising bipartisan report that documented how taxpayer dollars have been, unbeknownst to federal agencies and the public alike, funding the rise of China’s economy and military over the last twenty years.

“China and the Chinese Communist Party has not played by the rules and that’s with regard to obtaining our intellectual property, our innovation, our research,” said Portman from the floor of the Senate Wednesday.

The legislation he will be introducing, “builds on PSI’s recommendations to promote an open and transparent research enterprise in the United States and crack down on the theft of American taxpayer-funded research and IP, while also empowering the DOJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigations to directly punish those who seek to steal America’s research to benefit our rivals.”

He said that each year federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy, and their National Labs, the National Science Foundation, among others, awards more than $150 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds for research.

“China’s made it no secret that its goal is to surpass the United States as the world leader in scientific research and they’ve seen an opportunity to get ahead by exploiting this system of taxpayer-funded grants and the open and collaborative research enterprise that we have in this country,” Portman said.

“The Chinese Communist Party has declared the Chinese university system to be on the front line of military-civilian fusion efforts for technology acquisition. So, there’s a clear link here between the research going to these Chinese university labs and that same research being used to allow China to effectively leapfrog us in terms of their military improvements and their economic growth,” he added.

There has been a list of cases this year, where American University Professors, using taxpayer money, willingly gave the CCP their research to further the regime’s plans for military dominance.

In January, a Harvard professor named Dr. Charles Lieber, Chair of Harvard University’s chemistry department, was charged with secretly taking money from China and sharing his research with the Chinese government. In March, there was an arrest of a professor who used to work at West Virginia University who participated in the Thousand Talents Program. He applied for paid parental leave while he went to China to work at a university there, giving them the benefits of his research.  This week, an Ohio professor who was previously affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic was arrested for covering up his Chinese government-funded research and deanship at a Wuhan University, directly overlapping with $3.6 million in NIH funding for his research.

Portman said while the arrests of these professors are a step in the right direction, the criminal charges in their cases do not address the Thousand Talents Program, or even that they’re secretly working for the Chinese government.

“We’re going to need targeted legislation that will take direct action against this practice and that’s exactly what we have done.”

“First and foremost, our bill is going to help the Department of Justice go after Thousand Talents participants by allowing DOJ to hold federal grant recipients accountable for failing to disclose their foreign ties on federal grant applications,” Portman said.

It will require the Office of Management and Budget to coordinate grant-making between these federal agencies so there’s needed accountability and transparency. The legislation will authorize the State Department to deny visas to foreign researchers who are trying to access “sensitive U.S. research when there is a threat to our economic or our national security.”

The bill would require universities to prohibit unauthorized access to sensitive research and require universities to report any foreign gift of $50,000.

The coronavirus crisis is a top priority, Portman concluded, “But I got to tell you, in the context of this crisis, we’ve also got to reevaluate how we do business with China. We’ve got to look at this with fresh eyes and realize that in many areas, China has not been playing by the same set of rules as the rest of the world.”

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