Despite difficult relations between the United States and China, collaborative research between the two countries has remained resilient. But with young scientists entering the workforce amid heightened political tensions, concerns are growing that opportunities for large-scale, international projects could be curtailed.


What can the U.S. government do to curtail scientific cooperation between China and the United States? Does the U.S. government have the legal right to curtail scientific cooperation between China and the United States? Does it have the right to deny all cooperation between the two, or only certain cooperation? If it's limited, what kind of cooperation can be curtailed and can individuals or institutions challenge that decision through the legal system or not?


3 Answers 3


The federal government has full control over international relations, further The President is given pretty wide latitude in this regard so many things could be done by simple executive action. The largest concern would be retaliation by China more than any sort of action through legislative or judicial systems.

Common things that can be and are done primarily focus on restrictions from individual grants. Things like requiring some or all amounts of the money to be spent in the US or with US companies, requiring security clearances for everyone involved, requiring all data only be housed in the US. Other things can be done like curtailing visas for visiting Chinese scientists or students. There is also the technology embargo that has been enacted against China, and specific Chinese companies like Huawei.

As the tensions between the US and China rise along with the increase in corporate espionage it wouldn't be surprising to see additional restrictions placed on interacting with China.

  • 1
    the US has already suspended cooperation with China's space agency. So, yeah, it could be done.
    – Faito Dayo
    Aug 13, 2022 at 15:42
  • Re full control: Not really. It has good control (but not close to full control) over US government relationships with other countries. If it had full control, the Rosenbergs, Aldrich Ames, Robert Hansen, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and a host of others wouldn't have been able to leak secrets to other countries. The US government does have fairly good (but not full) after-the-fact control. With regard to funding, the US federal government has very good (but not full) control over its own collaborations with other countries. Things do slip through the cracks. Aug 14, 2022 at 12:33

This would not be without precedent. During the cold war, the United States curtailed scientific cooperation with the USSR using export restrictions. While you would think of export restrictions as applying only to physical goods, the US did also apply them to immaterial goods like knowledge. Specifically cryptographic algorithms.

While such restrictions can not conceivably contain knowledge in the 21st century, they can still be used to prevent cooperation between organizations which operate above-board.

  • Note however that this did not restrict cooperation between scientists of the East and the West. A beautiful story from my field Mathematics is that of the ADHM construction. This was found independently two British (where similar laws existed) and two Russian scientists. They met on a conference and after realising the similarity of their work they published the results in a joint paper. Aug 14, 2022 at 12:49

Scientists depend on grants, and many grants come from governmental organisations such as the NSF. It can either not award grants, or attach strings that make collaboration difficult.

The government can make it harder for Chinese scientists to obtain visas.

It can require security licences and so forth that would make technology collaborations harder.

It can block entire companies such as Huawei.

The government either has the legal right to do this, or can give itself that right.

Finally, it can set the tone for interactions. Scientists don't want to be associated with "bad things", and if the government is constantly sending the message "China is bad, China is bad", researchers are less likely to want to collaborate.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .