U.S.-China Research Projects Draw Congressman's Ire

May 17, 2012

Washington, May 17 - The United States government is "insane" to be funding collaborative research with China according to a senior Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a 12-term lawmaker and frequent critic of China's human rights record, last night took to the floor of the House for nearly 30 minutes to read a list of dozens of federally funded projects "that go directly to supporting development and the economy of China." Many involved grants for research involving physics, climate science, and environmental studies—but a few covered topics that included "judicial education" and green manufacturing.

"Couldn't we have spent this money better in the United States?" Rohrabacher asked.

Among his targets were a $63,000 National Science Foundation grant to Siena College in Loudonville, New York, for neutrino physics at China's Daya Bay nuclear facility, a $300,000 Department of Energy grant for modeling regional climate change in China, and a $100,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for "climate change adaptation." "Now isn't that great?" Rohrabacher said in one of many ironic asides. "We're paying for them to adapt to climate change."

Rohrabacher also alleged that "Chinese cyberspies have stolen all of our trade secrets. All of the money we put in to invest in research and development they steal and utilize." He ended his remarks by "suggesting that what we are doing is insane."

U.S.-China relations are often a flashpoint for controversy. Two years ago, Congress banned the White House and NASA from spending any money on scientific collaborations with China. The Obama Administration resisted on the grounds that it infringed on the president's authority to conduct foreign policy. The issue was resolved after White House science officials agreed to give Congress 30 days' notice of any pending collaborations and to certify that none of the exchanges pose a threat to national security. The Administration has also defended such collaborations by highlighting their potential benefits for the United States, for example, in controlling the spread of avian flu or reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.