Editor's Notes: U.S. Should Win a ‘War for Talent’ With China
China watchers Alex Stone and Peter W. Singer in an Oct. 12 posting on Defense One reported that the People’s Liberation Army is preparing to counter U.S. moves designed to lessen its research-and-development prowess.
One way it intends to compete with America is in a newly declared “war for talent.”
Influential leaders in China are “calling for ‘pivoting from technology acquisition to talent acquisition’ as a feasible strategy in a protracted tech war, because ‘strategic scientists’ and ‘leading scientists’ are ‘more important resources than technology itself,’” the two authors wrote.
“Chinese policymakers will likely pursue talent acquisition — Chinese nationals, foreign experts and foreign students — more aggressively on a global scale than before,” the authors wrote.
If there is a “war for talent” brewing with China, then it is one that the U.S. and its allies should easily win.
Note the selection of the word “should” rather than “will.”
Knee-jerk anti-immigration policies and everyday red tape could certainly torpedo efforts to lure the best and brightest to the United States, or worse, kick off a brain drain that sees talent lured away by big paychecks in China.
But there are some reasons why the United States, and partners such as Australia and Japan, and other R&D powerhouse allies in Western Europe, Israel and East Asia, should come out ahead in any war for talent with China.
First, any scientist from a foreign nation who wants to live and work in China should go there and breathe the air before making any decision.
And “breathe the air” is not some kind of euphemism. I’m talking about going there and experiencing the high-density smog firsthand. Some Chinese company or research institution may offer a “strategic scientist” a load of money to work in one of the nation’s major cities, but the air pollution will knock years off his or her life.
Take it from someone who ended up in a Taipei hospital with a bronchial infection and developed asthma as an adult after years of sucking in the dirty air in Asian cities — air pollution matters.
During a two-week trip through China in the early 1990s, I experienced it firsthand. I’ll never forget the eye-watering stench as I walked over an urban river in Shanghai and blowing my nose in Beijing and having the snot come out black. A gross image, I know, yet illustrative.
That was decades ago, but from all accounts, China’s pollution problem has only worsened.
Foreign “talent” also won’t be able to breathe the sweet air of freedom. Yes, that is a euphemism. The surveillance state will be keeping a close eye on all foreigners as potential spies, and xenophobia runs strong in China. And if a foreigner runs afoul of the law, they can’t expect much in terms of due process or a balanced judicial system.
So knowing all that, who would want to go live and work in the People’s Republic of China?
Well, to state the obvious, people from China. It’s their home, where their family lives and they are as patriotic as anybody.
Yet thousands of Chinese graduate students come to the United States every year to study at its top-notch universities. In a past column, I advocated for allowing the best and the brightest of these students to remain in the United States.
Stone and Singer in their article said the war for talent might mean China will want to “decouple,” or cut these academic ties.
Talented Chinese PhDs would have powerful reasons for wanting to return to their homeland. The government there might even blackmail or coerce them.
But in the event someone wants to remain and make their lives in the United States, they should be given the chance and maybe even offered incentives to stay.
The idea that talent and genius is evenly distributed throughout the world but opportunity isn’t, applies to another category of talent: those coming from other nations.
The United States needs to bring these students here to learn, and possibly stay and contribute to our industries. That may mean scholarships and financial aid and easy paths to citizenship, not roadblocks.
If there is a war for talent, a small victory for the United States is bringing a talented scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician to live and work here.
The second-best outcome is that they end up with an ally in Europe, Australia or Japan.
A loss is when they choose to bring their talents to China.
The United States and its allies should easily win a talent war with China, but there are no guarantees.
Yes, we have our “code red” air pollution days in the summer. Yes, we have xenophobia and an imperfect judicial system. No place is paradise. And people have been known to make compromises and live in less than ideal situations for big paychecks.
When it comes to lifestyles, if a “strategic scientist” has a choice between China and the United States, Europe or Australia, it should be a no-brainer.
The biggest opponent is ourselves. The United States, Australia and Japan — three advanced nations standing against China — all have well-established anti-immigration political constituencies and policies that could certainly play into China’s hands.
Welcome mats — not walls — should lead to an easy victory in this particular “war.”
Topics: Defense Department