After years of a bitter trade war with China, a nation consistently hostile to American interests in Asia and around the world, there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel. On December 13, 2019, the two countries announced Phase 1 of a nascent trade deal between them. President Trump made the declaration over Twitter, where he focused primarily on the economic benefits of the agreement, tariffs being chief among them. But while the tentative trade deal is indeed a victory for the U.S. economy, equally important are the lesser-known benefits for America’s national security.
Future battlefields will encompass air, sea, space and technology. Over the years, China has used an array of tactics to subtly undermine America’s national security interests. Without ever engaging in direct conflict with the United States, China’s communist regime has quietly chipped away at the foundation of our nation’s military prowess. Their principal weapon of choice? Intellectual property theft. Previously, China has targeted a bevy of defense programs, lifting highly-classified, proprietary data to gain insight into America’s military capabilities.
Intellectual property has been a key part of America’s stance on private property rights and the rights to one’s inventions from the beginning: The founders wrote it into the Constitution in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 by empowering the Congress “to promote the Progress of Science and Useful arts, by securing, for limited Times, to Authors and Inventors, the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Protecting IP is a bedrock American principle, and its connection to national security in the age of ever-advancing technology makes its protection vital.
The Chinese have already stolen top-secret information on our submarine warfare capabilities. They’ve managed to compromise data on our F-35 fighter jets as well as numerous other defense systems. This theft not only costs the United States taxpayer dollars, but it also presents a massive problem for our defense infrastructure. Thankfully, it’s a concern that President Trump’s trade deal directly addresses.
While not detailing an outright ban on China’s illicit theft of intellectual property, the trade deal does take a few preventative measures designed to curb China’s nefarious activities. The deal negotiates stronger legal protections for a variety of intellectual property types, including copyrights, trademarks, and patents. At least in theory, the agreement binds China to tighter restrictions regarding the respect of intellectual property rights. It would force the Chinese government to cease pressuring foreign companies to supply IP in exchange for market access. Additionally, it would bar China from engaging in certain unscrupulous behaviors to acquire foreign technology.
From a national security perspective, the deal is a welcome step in the right direction. It would be foolish to assume that China’s communist government would cease its theft of intellectual property altogether. Yet, in the very least, the deal will slow China down, allowing the U.S. government to erect additional protective measures around our most sensitive national security technology.
The measures are undoubtedly a victory for America’s defense infrastructure, reasserting the value of intellectual property protections at a time when it is criminally undervalued. IP forms the bedrock of American innovation; it allows our men and women in uniform to remain on the cutting edge of technological progress. Safeguards against IP theft are vital to America’s national security. And while it’s expected for countries like China to target IP, efforts on the home front to do the same are terribly counterproductive. But, unfortunately, that’s exactly what is happening.
Soon, in fact, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case that could potentially weaken our own legislative protections against IP theft. Google v. Oracle litigates Google’s claim that certain digital information shouldn’t be subject to IP protections by their very nature. If sustained by the Supreme Court, Google’s argument would set legal precedent that could render entire classifications of data uncopyrightable—a dangerous proposition. Such a ruling would undermine the value of IP protections within the United States itself by leaving entire sections of proprietary software defenseless against theft—something the Chinese government only wishes it could accomplish.
America mustn’t play into China’s hands. With the recent trade deal, the U.S. has made necessary progress in the battle against China’s intellectual property theft. But hamstringing China while neutering our own IP safeguards is merely taking one step forward and two steps back. It’s something we cannot afford to do.
Proper protections for IP are essential to America’s national security. The Trump administration recognized this and managed to negotiate a trade deal that established much-needed protections for our nation’s innovative technologies. In doing so, the United States took cautiously optimistic steps toward bolstering the private property rights necessary for our nation’s technological advancement. We cannot go backward, as any weakening of IP protections would assuredly cause. The U.S.-China trade deal is certainly a victory for America—let’s make sure it stays that way.
Bryan Preston is the author of Hubble’s Revelations: The Amazing Time Machine and Its Most Important Discoveries. He’s a writer, producer, veteran, author, Texan, and conservative strategist.