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Dominique Doms of the International Trade Examiner shared the following observations on the recent clumsy steps in the pas-de-deux between the U.S. and China on climate change and clean energy policy coordination.  These missteps are beginning to follow a regular rhythym.  Last November, the COP15 in Denmark stumbled into acrimony when the Chinese negotiating team responded to Obama’s open hand with a pointed finger and the meeting broke up without a global framework deal to support cap-and-trade.  The approach to this November’s COP16 meeting in Mexico is already looking wobbly in light of two issues:

  1. The filing on September 9, 2010 of a trade action by the United Steelworkers against China for unfair subsidization of its renewable energy exports.  (Bearing in mind the ringside seat perspective I had on the U.S.-Japan auto trade dispute in the early 1990s, I see this move by U.S. labor on the global chessboard as natural and expected but hardly commendable.  At best, it will serve as a palliative and not a remedy).
  2. The clumsy steps China took to embargo strategic minerals essential for the manufacture of many clean energy products without official explanation.

Whatever happens in Mexico, the dance will have to go on.  As Bloomberg New Energy Finance has pointed out, the U.S. and China are effectively “joined at the hip” as a de-facto G2 burdened with the responsibility of maintaining global environmental and economic sustainability.

The ultimate remedy will be for U.S. policymakers to look into the mirror and understand that the real issue is not an either/or issue of cooperation v. competition with China, though both are inescapable facts of the matter.   The ultimate challenge is for us to realistically assess what we have and have not done to move our country into the future.  We can compare ourselves with  China but that comparison must be based on a realistic assessment of how our national systems are different and on different pathways we will need to follow to move our country forward.  Just like with Sputnik, our goal should not be to hold China’s clean energy development back, it should be to marshall our resources to move our country’s clean energy development forward.  In the final analysis, the U.S. and China will need to be partners in this global effort but that global partnership — in order to be effective — must be based on maximum effort by each of the partners as well as on a respectful and realistic understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each partners system.  tc

Beginning of Dominique Doms comment:

“Clean and renewable energy production has become a new dispute between the US and China and centers around Chinese subsidies that unfairly give an advantage to local companies and price US producers out of the market.  Stephen Chu, US Energy Secretary, told the international press that the US government welcomes Chinese green companies but that there has to be a level playing field for US companies as well.

At the center of the dispute are large subsidies to Chinese manufacturers of solar panels and wind turbines that allow them to gain an unfair and competitive advantage over US companies that are not entitled to the same government stimulus.  The US is requesting from China, through the World Trade Organization, that US companies that manufacture green energy components have access to the same stimulus funds as their Chinese owned counterparts.  It is expected that China will ultimately reach an agreement with the US as both countries believe that government subsidies are a key factor in the development and manufacturing of green and renewable energy sources.

The goal of both countries is to further reduce carbon emissions to halt global warming by lowering global pollution.  China holds an advantage over the US as the largest manufacturer of solar panels. The edge in the global market with a very high demand for renewable energy sources is the direct result of China’s near monopoly of the rare earth minerals market.

China controls 93% of the RE market both in raw materials as well as its alloys that are used in solar panel reflection mirrors.  The US has reopened some of its RE mines again after having been absent in the market for 20 years. That alone may not be sufficient to close the competitive gap with China but subsidies to American producers may result in a better pricing balance.

Discussions between Mr. Chu and his Chinese counterparts have been ongoing since the opening of the US-China Clean Energy Research Center last week.

The center is the largest research center of its kind where scientists from both countries will jointly develop green and renewable technologies.  A permanent agreement may be reached prior to the COP-16 meeting to be held in Mexico from November 29 through December 10.”

(end of Dominique Doms comment)

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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