The Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the leading think tank and public policy organization in the Silicon Valley, has just published a comprehensive and timely research report on Chinese innovation, titled “China’s Technology Future and What It Means for Silicon Valley“. The author is Sean Randolph, Senior Director at the Institute.
You can download a copy of the complete report by clicking here.
Sean was kind enough to seek out my views on this topic and we shared a lively dialogue, both in person here in China, and by email once he returned to San Francisco.
The report does an excellent job contrasting China’s overarching future goals in technology and innovation with the current state of affairs. It takes a balanced view: “While recognizing Chinaâ€™s advances, it would be a mistake to think of China as a remorseless juggernaut sweeping everything in its path. Having a plan doesnâ€™t guarantee success, and not everything works.”
The report looks deeply both at some of China’s leading technology companies — including the “BAT” along with Huawei and car-maker Geely — and more broadly at how Chinese companies, both state-owned and private, regions and universities all align themselves with broader national goals to upgrade the level of China’s indigenous innovation.
What does all this mean for Silicon Valley, the world’s most important and successful breeding ground for high-value innovation? It’s here, in offering answers and perspective, that the report achieves its greatest value.
Here are some particularly insightful passages:
“Chinaâ€™s relationship with the Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area is unique, in part due to the deep historical and demographic ties between the Bay Area and China, but also because the regionâ€™s technology sectorâ€”the worldâ€™s largestâ€”most highly concentrates the assets of technology, investment and expertise that relate to Chinaâ€™s goals to accelerate its own technological development.
Bay Area technology companies, such as Intel, Apple, and Cisco, and venture firms, such as Sequoia Capital, DFJ (Draper Fisher Jurvetson), and Kleiner Perkins, have been active investors in China for decades. Now, reversing the historic trend in which virtually all investment flowed from the Bay Area to China, Chinese companies have started sending investment capital and other resources to the Bay Area through mergers and acquisitions, equity investments, and the establishment of research and innovation centers and accelerator programs.”
The attraction of Chinaâ€™s market can be compelling, but [Silicon Valley] companies also must consider whether their core technology can be protected, and whether their position in the Chinese market can be sustained if that technology is compromised by competitors.While few US companies are leaving China, government policies and weak IP protection have caused many to keep their best technology at home and others to stay away.”
The report appears at an especially critical time in the development of US-China technology policy and investment. Congress is moving to tighten the CFIUS controls on Chinese technology investment in the US. China, meanwhile, is pushing ahead with new and more restrictive policies at home, leading to companies like Amazon selling off assets in China.
Let’s hope the tide reverses. A more open and reciprocal trade and investment relationship between China and the US would benefit both, benefit the world.