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On Monday, November 22, 2021, Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA (Sasakawa USA) organized a private, in-person lunch discussion for a small group of American and Japanese experts from think tanks, the U.S. government, and the Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C. to exchange views on how U.S. and Japanese science and technology-related institutions are responding to renewed emphasis on the U.S.-Japan alliance. This discussion was the inaugural event of the US-Japan NEXT Alliance Initiative, which seeks to foster networking opportunities and develop recommendations to stimulate new alliance connections across, foreign, security, and technology policy areas. It featured opening remarks from Dr. Atsushi Sunami, President of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, who was visiting Washington, D.C. from Tokyo. The discussion was moderated by Mr. James Schoff, Senior Director of Sasakawa USA’s US-Japan NEXT Alliance Initiative.
The discussion touched on challenges that Japan currently faces as it develops new legislation and a new ministerial office to economic security priorities. These include strengthening supply chain resiliency, protecting critical infrastructure, and bolstering research integrity. The discussants recognized the importance of striking a balance between encouraging innovation through “open science,” which values broad-based collaboration and transparency, and maintaining high standards of integrity and accountability among researchers operating in the United States and Japan. The group agreed that the United States and Japan share the same values when it comes to research integrity and proposed that the two countries can benefit greatly from collaboration and coordination on this front. U.S.-Japan bilateral collaboration could then serve as a framework for multilateral cooperation with likeminded partners in the region, such as the Republic of Korea, the European Union (EU), and Australia.
Opening remarks from Dr. Sunami
Dr. Sunami set the stage for the discussion by highlighting recent efforts by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to strengthen Japan’s economic security and encourage innovation in science and technology. He cited the formation of a new ministerial post for economic security (filled by Diet Member Takayuki Kobayashi) and the creation of an advisory committee on economic security legislation (経済安全保障法制に関する有識者会議) within the Prime Minister’s office. The committee will draft a new law to protect Japan’s economic infrastructure by addressing supply chain insecurities, ensuring research integrity, and possibly creating new patent disclosure guidelines to protect patents with a national security interest in mind. Key areas of focus include cyber security, semiconductors, biotech (particularly medical devices and pharmaceuticals to address COVID-19), space technologies, and ocean technologies. While this new legislation would be a major step toward bolstering Japan’s economic security, Dr. Sunami noted that coordination among the different ministries will be a challenge. There is also uncertainty over what the “key technologies” are that warrant patent protection and/or security clearances for national security purposes (and who gets to determine them). Dr. Sunami expressed his hope that the U.S. officials can help Japanese counterparts address these challenges as the Kishida cabinet begins implementing its vision for enhancing Japan’s economic security.
U.S.-Japan Collaboration on science & technology
Following Dr. Sunami’s remarks, an American participant provided some perspective on the United States’ policy priorities in the realm of science and technology. They remarked that the Biden administration is intensely focused on global health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as climate issues. The administration has adopted an unprecedented focus on climate policy, which has become an organizing principle for the entire State Department. They stated that the U.S. seeks increased collaboration with its closest allies and partners on this front. He noted that Japan is one of the only countries with which the United States engages in substantive dialogue on an annual basis to address challenges and opportunities for cooperation on the major topics within science and technology policy, including advanced technology, biotech, quantum, AI, and issues related to research integrity and security. While there is close multilateral cooperation on these issues with likeminded countries and partners such as the G7, Japan and the United States share similar values when it comes to creating standards for research integrity and are well suited to bilateral collaboration. They emphasized that there is incredible enthusiasm within the State Department to cooperate with likeminded partners and allies on science and technology issues. Now is an opportune time for increased U.S.-Japan collaboration on this front.
Security and research integrity
Next, Mr. Schoff directed the conversation toward research integrity, asking the group whether Japan and the United States share the same definition of this concept. A Japanese participant remarked that while Japan has expressed its desire to improve research integrity and increase security surrounding technologies with national security implications, there are few details on how to measure the sensitivity of research and determine whether security measures should be heightened. They added that there are currently no security restrictions on university-conducted research in Japan and suggested that the government should consider establishing a new scheme for better protecting university research on sensitive technologies.
An American participant chimed in that while the United States and Japan appear to be aligned generally on their definitions of “research integrity,” other countries within the G7 have differing ideas. Some prefer to draw a greater distinction between protecting the integrity of scientific research on the one hand, and enhancing research security on the other (i.e., so that measures taken in the name of research integrity are not applied broadly to cover security and limit who can participate). Even within the U.S. government, there is not a standardized definition which can be applied across all departments and agencies.
Mr. Schoff shared the definition of research integrity used by an American researcher. Her definition focuses on the professional rigor of the research, i.e., whether the work contains cited sources, is repeatable, and ethical. However, research integrity does not only refer to the quality and reliability of the research product. “Integrity” can also mean having a full and transparent understanding of researchers’ affiliations and connections. This was identified as a current challenge faced by Japan, which lacks the legal framework to require researchers or their institutions to self-report their affiliations (although there are some in Japan who want to address this shortfall in the pending economic security bill).
Preserving an ecosystem of “open science”
A third American participant pushed back somewhat on the idea of classifying what could be considered sensitive research. He remarked that it can be difficult to definitively label certain technologies as “sensitive” when their applications are so far-ranging. Additionally, this can stifle innovation by keeping useful research cloistered behind security clearance barriers. A careful balance must be struck between maintaining research integrity and supporting an open scientific community which nurtures innovation. They also noted that the United States needs to attract foreign talent to maintain its edge in science and technology innovation and should keep this in mind when developing national security protocols for STEM research. A fourth American participant added that striking the right balance is especially important for emerging technologies like quantum technology, as constraints on research sharing could limit important advancements in this young field.
Collaboration on quantum research
A fourth American participant brought up the concept of a shared database for the United States and Japan to collaborate on quantum research. This could be an opportunity to model how collaborative research can be conducted securely on an international scale. Both countries already have an array of robust research institutions and national laboratories which could serve as a solid foundation for collaborative research activities. From there, collaboration could be expanded to trilateral or quadrilateral partnerships, bringing in countries such as the Republic of Korea or Australia.
The group discussed how in the past, the U.S. and Japan have lost valuable time and opportunities to push the boundaries on emerging technologies like quantum due to cumbersome or unclear export controls on certain research data. To cultivate a flourishing innovation ecosystem, restrictions on export-controlled research could be loosened (or, at least, the approval process fast-tracked) for key allies like Japan. In addition, greater efforts could be taken to create a network of research institutions across groups like AUKUS and the QUAD, whose members can benefit from pooling their resources and research talent in the development of cutting-edge technologies.
Data infrastructure and transparency
Next, the discussion turned to strengthening data governance and data infrastructure. An American participant noted that security-related constraints on sharing data, while necessary for keeping sensitive information away from adversaries and upholding privacy protection protocols, also affect the United States’ ability to collaborate with allies. To address this, he suggested that a new configuration for data sharing across borders is necessary. “Data unions” could be established to share federated data sets securely with identified partners. Records on who is accessing the data could be auditable, and certain subsets of data could be kept classified or anonymized to protect sensitive information.
An American participant agreed that investing in data infrastructure will be key for supporting the next revolutionary scientific discovery. Looking back through history, no one could have known what the next key technology for economic security would be; key technologies are only identifiable in hindsight once their applications are known. On this subject, a Japanese participant contributed a remark that Bill Gates provided at the 2014 Boao Forum for Asia, China’s strategic conference for economic development in Asia. When asked how China could develop an ecosystem of technological innovation, Gates is said to have responded by telling China to not do what Japan did, which was to try and find the next “winning tech” and invest in that research before the utility of said technology was fully understood. This strategy has resulted in investment dollars being funneled into narrowly defined research projects which are not necessarily destined to yield fruitful results. Investing broadly in research infrastructure to support secure data sharing and collaboration is a more effective way to support a thriving innovation ecosystem where talented researchers can organically explore the ideas that interest them. A handful of these ideas may culminate in scientific breakthroughs, but we will not know which ones until the discoveries have already been made.
The US-Japan NEXT Alliance Initiative is a forum for bilateral dialogue, networking, and the development of joint recommendations involving a wide range of policy and technical specialists (in and out of government) to stimulate new alliance connections across foreign, security, and technology policy areas. Established by the Nippon Foundation and administered by Sasakawa USA, the goal is to help improve the alliance and how it serves shared interests, preparing it for emerging challenges within an increasingly complex and dynamic geostrategic environment. Launched in 2021, the Initiative includes two overlapping lines of effort: 1) Foreign & Security Policy, and 2) Technology & Innovation Connections. The Initiative is led by Sr. Director Jim Schoff.