The Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement (STA) between the US and China that has been in place since 1979 expired on 27 February. The STA, which is renewed every five years, provides opportunities for the two countries to collaborate on science and technology. It was set to lapse in late August 2023, but the Biden administration renewed it for six months to determine how to proceed.

On the US side, concerns have been expressed that China is an unreliable or untrustworthy research partner, citing data restrictions and a lack of forthrightness in sharing scientific results. The US Congressional Research Service (CRS) warned in a November 2023 report that China’s cooperation under the STA ‘has not been consistent’ and as Beijing developed domestic science and technology competencies it has sought to restrict US researcher access in certain areas. China reportedly withheld avian influenza strains required for US vaccines and in 2019 cut off US access to coronavirus research, including US-funded work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to the CRS.

But Tara Drozdenko, director of the global security programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that scientific cooperation and exchange between the US and China is ‘making irreplaceable contributions’ in areas like air and water quality, cancer research and reducing electronic waste. ‘Cutting off contact will have consequences for the health, environmental, security and economic gains made possible by science,’ she cautioned.

‘Failing to reach an agreement on such a routine and practical matter would be a mistake,’ Drozdenko stated. ‘This agreement is not about politics – it has been continued through many administrations and phases of the US–China relationship, because both countries have understood the vital importance of exchange and cooperation in solving our biggest challenges.’ She urged Biden to renew the STA without further delay.