Taking the West’s Technology, Leaving its Freedoms

In her latest “Letter from China,” the New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow provides an overview of the newly released book Chinese Industrial Espionage: Technology Acquisition and Military Modernisation. Tatlow’s report outlines the book’s research on the Chinese government’s elaborate strategies for adopting technology developed in “free societies” without bringing the freedoms that allow innovation along:

How did China go from being an impoverished nation in the 1970s to challenging the United States’ role as the world economic superpower? Cheap labor? Hard work? Authoritarianism? The unleashed hunger of a people determined to prosper?

The authors of a new book, “Chinese Industrial Espionage,” say there is another factor: mass . Since the mid-1950s, the Chinese government has been transferring the science and technology of the developed world to China via methods that are legal, illegal and “extralegal” — because they are hidden from scrutiny — while keeping out the democratic system and liberal education that enabled such advances in the first place.

[…]“The problem China’s leaders face is how to encourage in one sphere while discouraging it in others,” the authors said. “Thanks to these transfer programs, they can selectively import novel ideas while avoiding the challenge of political survival in a free society.”

[…]In a book likely to annoy and please in equal measure, the authors use Chinese-language sources, often from public policy documents, to describe a system that has at its core not the attention-grabbing issue of cyberespionage, but human-based, meticulous, often open-source acquisition that involves multiple actors at all levels of the party and state, and appeals to the patriotism of Chinese abroad.[Source]

Also see another recent NYT piece co-written by Tatlow on technology transfer and the legal grey area in which it occurs (via CDT). For more on technology transfer, trade secrets, or innovation, see prior CDT coverage.