I can accept this being an honest attempt at objectivity in talking about China, but invariably, this is a fallacy in the “Western” mindset I frequently see in the English language “China” blogs. Stan Abrams at China Hearsay recently published an article, “China & Industrial Espionage: When Will It End?” where he explains the Renault disputes are likely overblown and China thus unfairly accused.
However, he “justifies” these false Renault accusations by arguing a rise in Chinese espionage in recent years:
Let’s face it, the reason why it was easy for Renault to point the finger at China is that the number of industrial espionage cases has been on the rise, not to mention the related problem of IP infringement. China’s aggressive industrial policy, either directly or indirectly, includes this sort of information gathering and has negatively influenced the attitudes of folks in the West.
The problem I have with this technique is on the surface, the article seems to be “objective.” Take a stand when it is clear cut, as in the Renault controversy. But, Abrams in the same breath pushes this broader narrative of “Chinese espionage,” which in my opinion is already a very charged and one dimension view in the “West.”
(By the way, some people get bent out of shape when others use the term “West.” In most cases that usually means they cannot debate further and have to resort to technicality to carry on. My point is I agree with Abrams there is indeed this attitude in the “West.” You can go here if you are interested in seeing how I defined “the Western media.”)
Now, I have done some homework trying to pull up a list of Chinese espionage cases in the “West.” Perhaps Abrams should make a list for us, because for those of us obsessed with “China” reporting in the West, we have seen tons of anecdotal materials and insinuations. Wen Ho Lee comes to mind. Rarely do we see anything concrete.
I think it’d be foolish for anyone to argue there is no espionage. It is probably “rampant” too. But, bear in mind though, this is absolutely not a one way street (as Abrams article have largely left out, though to his credit he says military competition with U.S. fosters this on “both sides.”). What I object to is this mindset in the “West” constantly thinking others are lurking around to steal from them.
Japan was still developing its technology sector, and some of its companies engaged in industrial espionage to get ahead of their competitors. Like general IP theft, that’s one of the things that developing countries do. Chinese companies are doing this for the same reason — it’s faster and cheaper than developing that technology yourself.
I would say though, it is generally true that developed countries have greater technological know-how. Certainly some truth in what Abrams said. But this is a very weak and shallow way to look at the issue. The developing countries do not need to always “steal” as the primary way to catch up. As I have discussed here, “The Open CourseWare Consortium: Help Make Education Free” the Chinese are spending tremendous efforts in tapping materials they can get their hands on in the public domain.
For example, in the Open CourseWare, MIT’s lectures on the latest Artificial Intelligence research are being absorbed by people within China. Is there a doubt Baidu not applying some of those theories on natural langugage searches into their search engine? This is a HUGE technology transfer that is occuring very broadly.
Let’s face it, poorer people determined tend to work harder than their richer counter-parts. This is yet another factor helping accelerating their inventiveness. Certainly, the economic climate has to be there to reward such activities, and in China’s case is there.
I have anecdotally heard many Chinese and Indian nationals working for Western firms, and their ideas often become properties of their Western counter-parts simply because the Western natives end up doing the patent filings. Sure, within the umbrella of such corporations, the inventions belong to the said corporations.
Is there due diligence those nationals are not stealing ideas from their home countries? I personally know of Nike sending their designers to Shanghai looking for “inspirations” at retail stores on what is “hot.” This is a very complicated two way street.
As Abrams suggests early on in the article, China’s trade policy is to acquire technology. Very true. Absolutely nothing wrong with that as a policy. But I have a problem with how he puts it:
I know this is extremely familiar territory for this blog, so I’ll try not to simply repeat what I’ve already said countless times about China’s industrial policy, forced technology transfer, and so on.
Emphasis above is mine. Why must China’s trade with her partners on technology be a “forced transfer?” This is a typical sick mindset I frequently see as if China is automatically doing something unfairly. No, China’s partners can simply say no if they do not want to sell technology to China. End of story. China cannot force a technology transfer.
Developing countries have a unnatural disadvantage, because this whole idea of Patents is also a concoction of rich nations to protect their inventions. For countries having been colonized and didn’t get to embark on this mad dash to “discover” so that they can “exclude” others from using such discoveries, they are at a disadvantage, especially in a globalized world.
Finally, while talking about espionage, think about this. I’d be willing to wager a chunk of money that many of this planet’s inhabitants are filmed by U.S. spy satellites and are in some CIA databases. Think twice before you peepee outdoors, because some perverts may end up looking at your genitals!
And I’ll leave this comment from a reader:
“African economist Dambisa Moyo, when asked about what is wrong with Western investments in the developing world, gave her answer as one word. Mindset.”
And it is not limited to just investments. It’s just about everything. Well, I’ll just leave it at that.