WASHINGTON The United States is seeking closer cooperation with China on civilian technology programs, including efforts to promote open technology standards and university research and development initiatives.
Progress on this and other fronts was reported by U.S. trade officials, just back from a trade mission to China that included executives from 15 U.S. companies. Among them were representatives from Motorola, the largest U.S. investor in China; Lucent Technologies; Applied Materials; and a small packaging company, Tek Pak Inc.
Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans headed the trade mission last week, which included stops in Beijing and Shanghai. Evans also stopped in Japan. Industry represented on the trip came from the U.S. telecommunications, IT, environmental-technology and medical-products sectors.
Phil Bond, undersecretary of Commerce for technology, said that the group met with counterparts at China's Ministry of Science and Technology. Minister Xu Guanhua expressed interest in the U.S. and European standards-making process as a way to improve trade between the countries, Bond said.
Chinese technical standards are largely decided by the government, with industry playing a limited role. U.S. officials said they want to open up the process. China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) is also expected to bring some harmonization of standards rules.
Arden Bement, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (Gaithersburg, Md.), said broadening of the U.S.-China technology relationship to include technical standards could help to speed exports and reduce transaction costs. Bement said that his agency is considering sending a representative to China.
U.S. and Chinese officials also engaged in a "lively exchange" on university R&D programs, Bond said. The debate focused on whether the U.S. model would work in China, where universities tend to spin out technology companies but retain control over them.
U.S. officials said they would prefer a system whereby universities license intellectual property (IP) generated by startups rather than exercising rigid control over individual companies. The issue is sensitive, since Chinese companies are chafing over what they consider to be exorbitant royalties charged by Western manufacturers.
To continue the debate, Bond said U.S. and Chinese officials would maintain contact through quarterly conference calls.
In booming Shanghai, the group met with municipal officials who are seeking more U.S. high-tech investment. Bond said city officials pressed Motorola executives to invest more in the area. The company has already invested about $3.4 billion in China, most of it for a production facility in Tianjin near Beijing.
Despite growing U.S. technology investment in China, companies often privately complain of pressure to share intellectual property with joint-venture partners there. WTO rules on the handling of IP are designed in part to address the issue. Bond said it's too early to say how much progress has been made on implementing the trade agreement's IP rules.
China's political leadership understands the importance of IP issues for continuing technology cooperation, said Bond, adding, "Where the rubber will meet the road will be in the implementation" of WTO rules on intellectual property.
In the runup to the 2008 Olympics, Chinese officials are also mindful of the need to clean up the environment, beginning with the legendary air pollution in Beijing. Hence, several environmental and energy companies accompanied Evans to discuss pollution control and related transportation issues.
The trade junket is part of a larger Bush administration strategy aimed at both drumming up exports in China as well as forging closer ties at a time when U.S.-China relations are strained. Science and technology programs provide an avenue to closer cooperation, Bond said.