The Chinese state has operated and steadily expanded a sophisticated system to acquire foreign technology through a combination of legal, illicit, and extra-legal channels. Even though it’s no longer a developing country, China seems to have no intention to abandon this playbook. Western countries’ complacency about this rests on some dangerous assumptions and misconceptions. First, that China's historic bias towards applied innovation and against basic scientific research – dismissively called its “copycat culture” – would prevent it from catching up with more advanced nations. Second, that Chinese researchers, after studying in the West, would bring democracy back to their country. Third, that China shared the same values of open markets, fairness, transparency and reciprocity in business and research. Each of these assumptions has proven to be wrong.
With contributions by leading experts, China's Quest for Foreign Technology lays bare Beijing's state-coordinated efforts to spot, transfer and absorb foreign technology and talent to serve national economic, strategic and military goals while reducing the costs of indigenous innovation. From the role of Chinese professional associations overseas and of the United Front apparatus in China's technology transfer networks to startup competitions and partnerships involving institutions linked to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and foreign multinationals and universities, the contributors offer vivid and meticulous accounts of the system. They describe its vectors, enablers, workings, successes – and its impact on innovation ecosystems in democracies from Europe to South Korea. The book is packed with original insights, case studies, profiles and analyses of key Chinese-language texts.
The book’s many recommendations are very valuable for readers in Europe, where the phenomenon remains strikingly under-researched despite the region being one of the main targets of Chinese acquisition efforts. European engagement with China on scientific research and technology for too long has failed to factor in much needed risk awareness and mitigation measures. The book challenges “simple notions of 'win-win' techno-globalism,” including through an account of the role of Europe-based Chinese professional associations in tech transfers and their close relationship with the Chinese Communist Party's political influencing structures.
Reviewed by Rebecca Arcesati