US, EU protectionism won’t stall China’s tech rise

By Chen Jing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/9 19:53:29

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

In the 1980s, a lot of people were hailing the trend toward "science and technology without borders." At that time, many of the unknowns and problems faced by human beings were not confined to single countries, so the idea was that the wisdom of scientists from various countries should be integrated and the fruits of this knowledge should be shared to address the practical problems facing the world. The idea, which was advocated mainly by the West, suggested that every technology could be used to serve the whole world. However, if we look at it today, things seem a little different.

Now that many technologies have been put into productive use, developed countries have gained experience in transforming scientific and technological achievements into commercial accomplishments. The concept of "science and technology without borders" has gradually evolved into "science without borders, but technology with borders." A typical example is the way in which technology patents have become a kind of commercial weapon for Western companies. The establishment of the patents is supposed to protect the interests of developers so as to give them more impetus to conduct deeper and more updated research, which is undoubtedly a good thing. But an overemphasis on national borders along with fears that latecomers may surpass patent holders by acquiring new technologies will greatly inhibit the value that technology can offer.

It has been reported recently that the EU is planning to set up a system for screening foreign investment involving critical infrastructure and technology so as to protect European countries from potential "national security" risks. The US has been even more direct in setting up barriers for foreign investment in its high-tech industries. There seems to be a particular fear of Chinese companies, according to Western media reports.

In 2014, China's investment in Europe exceeded European investment in China, and in 2016 it reached a record high of 35.1 billion euros ($39.95 billion). 2016 also saw the much-discussed takeover by Chinese appliance firm Midea of German robot maker Kuka. In 2017, China invested $81 billion in Europe, which was mainly because Chinese chemical giant ChemChina's $43 billion acquisition of Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta had been postponed. If that massive deal hadn't been delayed, Chinese investment in Europe in 2017 would have been $38 billion.

Chinese investment in the US reached $60 billion in 2016, but fell to just $1.8 billion during the first half of 2018. The sharp contrast between the two figures underscores how sensitive the US has become toward China, particularly in terms of competition in technology. The main reason for the change in attitude of the US and EU is that they can no longer view China and the Chinese market in the same arrogant way as they did decades ago, when there was a huge gap. Chinese companies have improved their market competitiveness and technical level since then, and are now seen as a threat to the leading technological status of the US and EU.

It is a common task for all countries to develop science and technology. Human beings should share scientific and technological achievements to contribute to solving global problems such as pollution and poverty. China has adhered to this idea, but the US and European countries are going back on their original values, which is to the detriment of all mankind.

The view that the US and EU can stall China's technological progress is misguided. For a large country like China, technological development relies on sustainable and significant investment, as well as massive numbers of R&D staff that solve various problems one by one and gradually enhance their capabilities. China has already pulled through its initial difficult stage and has sufficient scale and development power. The restrictions of the US and EU may temporarily impede the momentum of China's technological development, but they will not stall it.

The author is a research fellow at a think tank under the University of Science and Technology of China.

Posted in: INSIDER'S EYE

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