the Korean Peninsula, and anti-People’s Republic of China attitudes among some in Congress were strong. “So it was a difficult period for this academy to begin to reach out to colleagues in the Chinese sciences to build bridges,” he said.
The Cultural Revolution soon intervened, however, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that small numbers of U.S. scientists began to visit again. There was strong American interest in China’s studies of botany and seismology, areas in which China was advanced, Ambassador Wolff noted. The Chinese scientific community, meanwhile, was interested in topics related to the nation’s industrial and agricultural priorities, such as computer science, petrochemical engineering, mineral extraction, telecommunications, mechanized agriculture, and industrial automation.
Exchanges resumed in earnest after the Nixon-Zhou Enlai 1972 Shanghai Communiqué. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping suggested there was potential for expanding bilateral exchanges. Ambassador Wolff, who served as U.S. deputy special representative for trade negotiations at the time, noted that the first high-level science delegation to China that year was led by a colleague of his, Frank Press, then President Jimmy Carter’s science advisor and later president of the National Academies.2 That trip, he said, “provided the foundation for the formal bilateral understandings to foster science and technology cooperation that followed.” Soon afterward, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology and America’s National Science Foundation resumed formal cooperation.
The Sino-U.S. partnership in science and technology played an important role in helping China’s scientific community recover “from the dislocations of the Cultural Revolution,” Ambassador Wolff said. Meanwhile, “American universities were and are an enormous source of education for Chinese students. Investment in China by American and other foreign corporations was and is an important source of technology for China.”
Now, the United States is starting to benefit. “We may be on the threshold of some reverse flow of investment, from China to the United States, and China’s graduate students enrich the research environment of American universities,” Ambassador Wolff observed. “The fruits of major research activity that will take place in China will be available to other countries as well.” One recent sign of this trend, he noted, is that Applied Materials Corp.’s chief technology officer is moving to China to improve production of solar-panel equipment.
2Frank Press served as presidential science advisor from 1977 through 1980 and as president of the National Academies from 1981 to 1993.