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U.S.-China research collaboration may be falling - but not in AI

Joint AI research grew slightly in 2021, bucking an apparent trend

Our Datapoints series brings you quick insights from ETO's data-driven tools and visualizations. Read more posts in the series.

"U.S.-China joint research papers drop for first time in 28 years," reads a recent headline in Nikkei Asia:

Research papers jointly authored by scientists in the U.S. and China have declined for the first time in nearly three decades, underscoring the impact of decoupling in the face of heightened political tensions between the two countries. ... "I suspect there are moves in the U.S. to avoid co-authoring with China due to the bilateral political tensions," said Tohru Yoshioka-Kobayashi, an assistant professor at Hitotsubashi University's Institute of Innovation Research.

The Nikkei Asia article is based on a new report from Japanese government analysts, who reportedly found that joint U.S.-China research fell 5% in 2021 - even as collaborative research in general (that is, papers with authors from multiple countries) rose 7% the same year. Political tensions are an obvious possibility, as is China's rapid rise as a scientific power in its own right. The article speculates that China might even be able to create a separate "sphere of [scientific] cooperation" in coming years, decoupling further from America and Europe.

Strikingly, though, U.S.-China collaboration doesn't seem to be declining in at least one critical field of research. ETO's Country Activity Tracker (CAT) has extensive data on collaborative research in artificial intelligence. Here's the recent trend for U.S.-China AI research collaboration, taken straight from the CAT interface:

According to CAT, U.S.-China AI research collaboration actually rose slightly from 2020 to 2021 - about 3%. It's intriguing that AI seems to be bucking the trend here, especially when it's such a focus of competition - even tension - between the two countries. CAT also makes clear that in absolute numbers, China is the United States' top collaborator by far across all internationally co-authored AI articles - and vice versa.

To be sure, a 3% increase isn't huge, especially compared to prior years. U.S.-China AI research collaboration may not be declining, but it's not growing as fast as before - even as the AI field as a whole is booming. CAT's underlying data, drawn from a variety of sources, may also not line up exactly with the Japanese researchers' Clarivate data. At a minimum, though, the CAT results suggest that U.S.-China AI collaboration isn't just blowing away on the geopolitical headwinds.

To replicate this analysis - and see how the U.S. and China are collaborating with other countries on AI - check out CAT at 🤖

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