China's Quest for Foreign Technology
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China's Quest for Foreign Technology

Beyond Espionage

William C. Hannas, Didi Kirsten Tatlow, William C. Hannas, Didi Kirsten Tatlow

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eBook - ePub

China's Quest for Foreign Technology

Beyond Espionage

William C. Hannas, Didi Kirsten Tatlow, William C. Hannas, Didi Kirsten Tatlow

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About This Book

This book analyzes China's foreign technology acquisition activity and how this has helped its rapid rise to superpower status.

Since 1949, China has operated a vast and unique system of foreign technology spotting and transfer aimed at accelerating civilian and military development, reducing the cost of basic research, and shoring up its power domestically and abroad—without running the political risks borne by liberal societies as a basis for their creative developments. While discounted in some circles as derivative and consigned to perpetual catch-up mode, China's "hybrid" system of legal, illegal, and extralegal import of foreign technology, combined with its indigenous efforts, is, the authors believe, enormously effective and must be taken seriously. Accordingly, in this volume, 17 international specialists combine their scholarship to portray the system's structure and functioning in heretofore unseen detail, using primary Chinese sources to demonstrate the perniciousness of the problem in a manner not likely to be controverted. The book concludes with a series of recommendations culled from the authors' interactions with experts worldwide.

This book will be of much interest to students of Chinese politics, US foreign policy, intelligence studies, science and technology studies, and International Relations in general.

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China’s transfer venues



An Introduction

William C. Hannas and Huey-Meei Chang

China’s reputation for innovative technology, exemplified in popular lore by its “four great inventions”1 and chronicled in Joseph Needham’s encyclopedic account,2 has lost its luster in recent decades as reports of industrial espionage swamp mainstream media, and accounts of systematic intellectual property rights (IPR) abuse emerge into public view.
Evidence for this behavior is pervasive.3 Less well known perhaps is that China’s appetite for foreign technology is not a new phenomenon, and not an aberration in historical terms. That is, these practices did not begin with the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Indeed, as will be shown below, China has struggled with a “creativity problem” for much of its history. The implications of this dependency are two-fold:
On the one hand, attempts by foreign governments to manage China’s licit and illicit transfers have had little effect, since they are rooted in habits that date back more than a century—longer if one considers cognitive preferences—and cannot be changed easily.
On the other hand, China’s ability to compete internationally despite this apparent handicap suggests that its composite innovation system4—whatever one thinks of it—has merit, and must be confronted on its own terms as a viable developmental model.
In part a product of conscious design, in part a consequence of a mindset that accords priority to practical achievement, China has built a hybrid structure that is able to exploit foreign successes, while drawing on indigenous resources as needed. Western hopes notwithstanding, there is little prospect it will transition to a “normal” (Western) model on its own.
This chapter begins with an overview of the mechanisms supporting China’s drive to acquire foreign technology “by various means” (以多种方式),5 as a foundation for exploring its causes and as an introduction to later chapters that discuss its workings and consequences.
Our immediate goal is to trace the system’s development, catalog its enablers, discuss venues through which foreign technology acquires “Chinese characteristics” (i.e., is commercialized), and lay out the statutory record that ties this activity to the state. A final section addresses the myths that inhibit effective countermeasures.

Changing the soup without changing the medicine

China’s quest for the world’s technology began in the mid-nineteenth century in reaction to foreign threats. As always, the motivation was practical necessity. China had lost a series of wars to imperialist powers and was forced to cede territory and sovereignty. Encumbered by a moribund education system, by a social structure that rewarded the least adaptive elements of society,6 and by its own history of success, the country was ill-prepared to counter the spectrum of challenges that industrialized nations posed.
Sweeping changes needed to effect meaningful reforms, such as those made in Japan during the Meiji era (1868–1911), were not possible in China given its size, past, and the hubris of its ruling class. What followed were efforts to patch the system without changing its nature—changing the soup without changing the medicine (换汤不换药).7 These efforts include, notably, China’s self-strengthening movement (自强运动, 1861–1895)8 and, especially, Zhang Zhidong’s (张之洞, 1837–1909) famous proposal to take “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning for application” (中学为体,西学为用).9 Forced to choose between loss of autonomy and forfeiting its cultural identity, China sought the middle ground of acquiring abroad what was needed—but only what was needed—to preserve its traditional way of life.10
Unsurprisingly, the “ti-yong” (体用) proposition has been criticized universally for ignoring the social milieu of which technology is a part. Importation begs the question of how a technology can be replicated and sustained, absent the conditions that brought it to life. Yet it is impossible to look at China’s subsequent history and fail to appreciate that this same formula, though not explicitly stated, has guided China’s post-1949 industrial development—not unsuccessfully.11
Today China prospers in many technological fields through indigenous and foreign-inspired efforts, while maintaining a political structure not far removed from traditional norms. The country continues to exercise its remarkable ability to adapt, apply, and improve technology, while compensating for a lack of “Western” style creativity by reaching abroad.
If ti-yong is a failure, it is a remarkably persistent one.
In the same vein, China has sent hundreds of thousands of students abroad to enrich its technological base without impacting China’s survival as an authoritarian dictatorship. The practice began in 1872, when China sent 120 students to the United States, and has grown to where some 25 percent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates in the US are Chinese nationals.12 What is notable—beyond the dependency itself—is that the West’s dream of returnees transforming China into a liberal replica of the West is no closer to reality than a century and a half ago, when the first batch of students returned to find that their cultural makeover was unwelcome.13
Has the situation changed? Here is an excerpt from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech in 2013 to an overseas student organization,14 in which Xi doubles down on a statement made by one of his predecessors:
As Comrade Deng Xiaoping profoundly pointed out, “We are carrying out socialist modernization to catch up with the developed capitalist countries economically and, politically, create a higher and more effective democracy than the capitalist countries. Moreover, we will train more and better skilled persons than in those countries.”15
The message is clear: the goal of foreign study is, as before, a stronger China; “Western” democracy is not part of the agenda. Bring back the technology, leave the baggage where you found it —the very essence of ti-yong.
Between then and now China has steadily grown its state-supported apparatus for transferring foreign technology, from its early “lean to one side” (一边倒) reliance on Soviet Russia (1950s); through the establishment of a world-class open-source document procurement system in 1956; joint R&D ventures and more overseas study after China’s “opening” in 1978; mobilization of diaspora networks and proliferation of foreign-based S&T support associations from the late 1980s; multiple foreign “talent” (人才) outreach programs beginning in 1994; the creation of Overseas Chinese Scholar (OCS) returnee parks also in 1994, where ideas (and IPR) accessed abroad...

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