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Scientists at Central South University in Hunan, China. Photo: Guang Niu/Getty

The escalating U.S. fear of Beijing's spies chipping away at the American tech edge has a new focus: Chinese scientists who are recruited to return to their homeland.

Driving the news: China is making its Thousand Talents Plan — a widely publicized government program that has lured an estimated 7,000 Chinese scientists back home to date — disappear, reports Nature. The program has been wiped from government sites, and interviewers have reportedly been instructed no longer to mention the initiative by name when speaking with prospective recruits.

The big picture: Scientific cooperation between the U.S. and China is splintering amid the full-blown trade war and intensifying Washington rhetoric around Beijing's economic espionage. It threatens to slow scientific advances across the world.

  • "My sense is that things in this space are going to get worse before they get better," says Chris Johnson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Thought bubble, from Axios science editor Andrew Freedman: China is making great strides in multiple fields, including supercomputing, AI, gene editing (biology), medicine, atmospheric sciences and space exploration, to name a few. Their goals are ambitious, and it's not so much that luring scientists back home will set scientific progress back, but more that it'll probably benefit China versus other nations, like the U.S."

Xi Xiaoxing, a physicist at Temple University, told Nature: “Every scientist should be concerned — not just scientists of Chinese origin." Xi was arrested by the FBI for sharing sensitive information with China, but his case was later dropped.

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
10 mins ago - Economy & Business

How to meme a painting

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

How can a physical artwork become an NFT? One new company has just spent $12.9 million on a Banksy in an attempt to try out a new way of converting the real into the virtual.

Why it matters: The art market globally sees volume of about $60 billion per year, almost all of which is trade in physical objects. Art-world insiders including former Christie's c0-chair Loïc Gouzer are on the lookout for ways to monetize physical paintings without necessarily giving up physical ownership of them.

Republicans threaten to shut down government over vaccine mandates

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Capitol in November 2020. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate are planning to force a government shutdown Friday to deny funding needed to enforce the Biden administration's vaccine mandates on the private sector, according to Politico.

Why it matters: Congress has until the end of the week to pass a stopgap measure to extend funding into 2022, though objection from a small group of Republicans could shut down the government.

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.

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