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I wrote around to some contacts yesterday including a link to this article by Thomas M. Hout and Pankaj Ghemawat in the current issue of Harvard Business Review. 

China vs the World: Whose Technology Is It? – Harvard Business Review

Emon Wang, a partner at Spirea Capital, wrote back with some insight of his own:

“Interesting and impressive… maybe the best English article on this topic I read this year.

However, as a native Chinese who works in cross-border deals in cleantech from Europe I`d like to add some words:

– The relationship between Beijing and local governments are very complicated and subtle. For foreign players, knowing how to play with both side is critical. Tip for beginners: it`s practical to make friend first with local governments.

– Instead of complaining, in order to maintain competitive power, foreigners might spend more time and money on R&D at home, to ensure a leading position and be one step head of China and other emerging powers. Without continuous innovation, being caught up on is only a matter of time. VW shared its technology with China for so many years and is still the No.1 seller in the country, a hell of money they have made and I don`t think they lose any of their core technology strength. IMHO, if your stuff can be easily copied, then it makes theoretically no sense to over-protect it and increase the cost of simple technology artificially.

– What China lacks is exactly the ground of technology innovation and R&D competence. Not the available technology itself. Consider the growing number of high-educated Chinese both domestically and oversea, the next generation needs the infrastructure. The government is now building this up.

– Technology in exchange for market is a fair trade. No one is forced to share his technology (take Google for example, you can quit if you want). On the micro level it`s about greed. On the political level it`s about p/l and jobs at these multinational corporations. And it`s about negotiation. If you did your homework badly and made too many enemies, you can`t expect a good deal.

– All in all, if you really understand the Chinese history, you will understand why own technology competence is so important in the culture. It`s not about taking profit from the foreign corporation or about a technology war whatsoever.”

Tim Giesecke, author of the forthcoming EcoCommerce 101, made the following comment and asked for some clarification from me on Emon’s last paragraph.

Tim’s comment:  “Perhaps the timeline is the most telling – China becomes the #1 economy in 500 AD – looses the title in 1850AD – poised to regain it soon. We Americans will need to recognize asap that we can sit and be entertained, but not all the time.”

Tim’s question:  “If you can help me tie the ends of the last paragraph – technology competence is so important in the culture…is it to prevent themselves of becoming vulnerable to market forces, negoiations?”

My attempt at clarification:  “There’s a tactical level that has to do with negotiations (Sun Tzu’s Art of War and all that) but it is mostly a culturally-patterned value deeply embedded in Chinese (read ’embedded in the Han majority’ comprising 95% of the Chinese population) as a result of centuries of real and perceived humiliation on the global stage after centuries of preeminence. They don’t want to ever go back to that historical place of weakness and technology is their ladder out.”

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