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China Finds that Innovation is Harder than it looks

? On the market value of economies |


| David Brin on Openness ?

May 15, 2006

China Finds that Innovation is Harder than it looks

Michael Mandel

China is trying to become an "innovation society." But they are finding that innovation is harder than it looks. Now a leading Chinese scientist who claimed to have created a new computer chip has been accused of fraud, according to the latest report .

The scandal at Shanghai Jiaotong University, the alma mater of former President Jiang Zemin, is an embarrassment for Chinese leaders, who are trying to promote homegrown technological advances to match the country's economic progress.

Now the question is whether this is an isolated instance, or whether it reflects a systemic pattern of Chinese leaders trying to push their country up the technology ladder faster than it can go. The Chinese economy has already made a stellar leap, clearly moving from 'developing' to 'low industrial' status. But can it go 'high industrial' or even "innovative" status in one big push? I don't think so.

See also my longer piece here.

10:17 AM


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? Chinese cheating from New Economist

Pressure in China to innovate seems to be taking its toll. FT journalist Richard McGregor reports that a fake chip storm rocks China?? science elite: China?? scientific establishment has been shaken by the sacking of a dean at one its most prestigi... [Read More]

Tracked on May 16, 2006 03:02 AM

Welcome back. Seems to me that, since China does so much manufacturing, it might want to focus on *process* innovation: developing ways to improve manufacturing productivity for things it is already making. This would include the development of machine tools, robotics, etc--the people who actually use these things are arguably best equipped to do product planning for them, at least at the functional level. I could see China developing a major business in making production equipment focused on the needs of developing countries.

Posted by: David Foster at May 15, 2006 02:17 PM

Yes, innovation will not brought about by impusive revolution under manipulated wishes, but out of systemtic building up of a whole dynamic enviornment, comprised of such as input of education and research funds and legal institution of intellectual property right, that will require a relatively long-term of streneous and down-to-earth commitment by the entire society.

Posted by: henrywu at May 15, 2006 10:06 PM

David Foster's idea is brilliant. I think so, too. I think in fact that is part of the reason that Japan's economy grew because they developed very advanced process technology that allowed them to produce at a much lower cost than their U.S counterpart.

I won't say that China can never become an innovative country like U.S and Western Europe. But its still has some gap to bridge. But perhaps the first healthy step is investment in process technology?

Posted by: Charlie Kao at May 16, 2006 03:56 AM

That sounds like a good route to me also. But too much of their research program now sounds like the old Soviet five-year plans

Posted by: Mike Mandel at May 16, 2006 08:55 AM

Limitations in Chinese innovation has its roots in Confucian educational system. My experiences about research projects in Beijing:

Posted by: BeijingMan at May 16, 2006 12:17 PM

BeijingMan, thanks for the very interesting link.

Posted by: Mike Mandel at May 18, 2006 09:00 AM

Innovation has become a corporate buzzword evrywhere. But constantly talking about an idea is totally different from practicing it: One is about wishful thinking; the other, is about action. Innovators are doers, they act. China is trying to become an "innovation society" but so far that is purely wishful thinking.

But how can a huge country like China achieve this goal ? I Think that one way is to build a countrywide culture of innovation inside chinese companies. This strategy should require tangible steps like creating the right internal teams, setting up the right processes and procedures and rewards but also require intangible steps like giving employees room to be creative, and even more important is encouraging them to take risks and initiatives.

But at the end what counts is the perception that a costumer builds in his mind about the value of a firm goods or services. Innovation has to be good value. It?? not innovation at any price or cost.

Posted by: Henrique Pl??ger Abreu at May 22, 2006 09:29 AM

I think it's interesting, all this talk of innovation. It is very likely that in 10 years the only innovations worth speaking of will be those that garner china a larger share of the worlds dwindling energy supply. And these will likely be military in nature.

How will China, Asia, and the world effectively reconcile their socio-political requirements for essentially infinite growth over time with the very finite limits on world energy capacity in the very near term?


Posted by: desert rat at May 31, 2006 12:42 AM

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