On Fox Business, Portman Highlights Need for Upcoming Bipartisan Legislation to Protect U.S. Taxpayer-Funded Research and Intellectual Property from Global Competitors

May 20, 2020 | Portman Difference

In an interview with Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria this morning, Senator Portman highlighted bipartisan legislation he will introduce soon to crack down on China’s theft of American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property (IP). Portman, as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), led a year-long investigation into China’s talent recruitment programs like the Thousand Talents Program, culminating in a bipartisan report in November 2019 that detailed how China has recruited U.S.-based scientists and researchers since the late 1990s and incentivized them to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded research and IP to China for their own military and economic gain.  

In response to the report, the FBI and the Department of Justice have announced criminal charges and the arrests of several academics affiliated with American universities and research institutions for crimes related to their participation in China’s talent recruitment programs while accepting American taxpayer-funded grant funding. 

Excerpts of his interview can be found below and a video can be found here.   

PORTMAN ON NEED TO PUT A STOP TO CHINA’S THEFT OF AMERICAN INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY:

“Maria it’s even worse than that. You and I have talked about it before and I appreciate your following this. For 20 years now, the Chinese government has been systematically targeting promising research in the United States and they’re doing it through the researchers themselves. So you remember the story about the Harvard professor who was recently arrested. There have been three more just in the last couple of weeks who have been arrested. These are individuals who have signed up with what’s called the Thousand Talents Program that China has. They pay these people to take their research that they’re doing here, that is taxpayer-funded. So the most recent case was one in Ohio actually, a Cleveland Clinic researcher getting money from the NIH, National Institutes of Health. They paid that person to take the research to China -- set up labs for them in China. In this case this professor actually took biological samples to China and then they in turn steal that research. And you’re right, sometimes they make it harder for us to get it back because they put patents on it. So, this is outrageous. It’s been happening for a long time. We’re finally waking up to it thanks to an investigation we did, which took a year, thanks to a report we put out last year, the Justice Department, the FBI is now beginning to put a stop to this by arresting individuals but they need more tools, so we also have legislation to tighten it up all through the process, including giving our law enforcement officials tools they need, to stop this, really, stealing of American innovation and technology.”

PORTMAN ON HOW CHINA IS STEALING U.S. RESEARCH TO FUEL THEIR OWN ECONOMY AND MILITARY:

“Well, I think they are starting to understand it because we are exposing it. We had a State Department official testify before us in a hearing and he made it very clear that the Chinese Communist Party is using these universities as a way to fuse the research and their economic buildup and their military buildup. So this is a national security issue, it’s a national economic security issue, but also, it’s a military issue, because some of the research is actually military research and funded by places like the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health. Our tax dollars, $150 billion a year we spend to do research, we get a lot of return on that, research is a good thing, but not if the Chinese come in and take that research, and commercialize it before we can and then use it, in some cases, against us.”

PORTMAN ON HIS BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO GIVE FEDERAL AGENCIES AND UNIVERSITIES THE TOOLS THEY NEED TO STOP CHINA’S THEFT OF U.S. IP:

“Our legacy does a very effective job of stopping it all through the system. It starts with visas, actually, and it says the State Department should be permitted, when they know someone is coming here to access sensitive information and they suspect it’s to take it back to China, they have no ability now not to grant those visas. They have to grant them, so they’re looking for that. This is career State Department folks who came and testified before us. That’s in the legislation. Second is, our research institutions, they’re terrific. National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy does a lot of basic research but they have not been working together and transparent in terms of where their grants are going. So the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, so we tighten that up as well, requiring people obviously, to disclose on their applications to get this research, whether they’re getting money from the Chinese government. They don’t have to do that now, there’s no law against it, so we add a law that says that it’s illegal to hide that information from these institutions, and to hide it from your university, by the way. The university community needs to come along here because they are the ones, ultimately, who are being defrauded. And then finally, we do tighten it up at the university level and say, if you have someone who has access to sensitive information you have to report that and allow the State Department to know it, allow others to know it, including the FBI, so they can take appropriate actions to help safeguard our innovation. So there are a number of steps we can and should take.”

PORTMAN ON FINDING A BALANCE ON ENCOURAGING RESEARCH WITH OTHER COUNTRIES BUT NOT ALLOWING THEM TO STEAL U.S. TAXPAYER-FUND RESEARCH:

“Another part of our legislation says if you receive $50,000 or more from a foreign government, any foreign government, including China, you now would have to report that. We make the reporting easy to do, streamline it so we’re not trying to add more burdens but we have to know this information. That’s the world within which we live -- we’ve been naïve about it. When the FBI testified before us late last year, they acknowledged -- which is unusual for law enforcement I suppose -- that they really had been asleep at switch. They said that we should have caught on to this many years before, we are now going to be on top of it. And to their credit they have been. The Justice Department, U.S. Attorney’s offices, the FBI are now on top of it and dealing with it. Maria, frankly, we have been naïve and we have allowed this to happen. And it’s helped to fuel the rise of the Chinese economy and the Chinese military. We want to have research in this country, we want people from all over the world to want to come to America, which has been the case because our research enterprise is so innovative, so open, so interesting to them to be a part of it. That’s good. But what we don’t want is for them to misuse that. And misappropriate our research, particularly the taxpayer-paid research, which I think is the biggest outrage. I think there is a balance here we’ve got to reach. Encouraging research, of course, being open to people coming from other countries to help us with that research, we have so many countries that are ally countries that benefit from our research. We benefit from theirs. That’s all good, we want to keep all that. So there’s a balance here. I think we can achieve it.”

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