WASHINGTON About 200 joint research and development centers have been established in China since 1990, with U.S. computer makers like IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. paving the way for a raft of electronics companies, according to a new study on China's evolving high-technology R&D network.
In a report to be released this week, the Henry L. Stimson Center, a national security think tank based here, traced the evolving relationship between U.S. technology companies and their joint venture research partners in China. Both sides are increasingly benefiting from research collaboration, but China remains far from its goal of implementing a "national system of innovation," the report found.
U.S. and other foreign high-tech companies with joint R&D centers in China have gained advantages from Beijing's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). A key benefit has been the emergence of wholly-owned foreign enterprises in China that provide foreign owners greater control over their technology and intellectual property.
China and the United States can also benefit from globalization, especially rapid transfer of technology, said report author Kathleen Walsh, a senior associate at the Stimson Center. "The U.S. should be leveraging this" R&D with China, Walsh said. But "there are inherent rewards and inherent risks."
One risk for foreign firms in China has been loss of proprietary technologies in exchange for access to a huge emerging market. Walsh said she is less worried about these concerns than when she began her research several years ago. One reason, she said, is the order that China's WTO membership has brought to U.S.-China technology collaboration.
Nevertheless, a long list of export-control issues raised by technology transfers to China must still be resolved, Walsh said.
The report also found that an internal debate rages in China about how fast to acquire and assimilate new technologies. Government leaders fearful of losing access to international technology transfers want to move quickly to deploy products like electronics. Scientists and engineers prefer a go-slow approach that gives them time to digest new technologies.
Precisely how fast and in what directions China's R&D infrastructure is developing is hard to pinpoint, the report found, because there is little hard data on the phenomenon. Still, the report noted that China has succeeded in attracting a wide range of computer and telecommunications research partners ranging from IBM and Microsoft to Motorola and Qualcomm.
For now, the report concluded, Chinese R&D is "more 'D' than 'R'."