Bureau of Export Administration
Office of Strategic Industries and Economic Security
Defense Market Research Report
U.S. Commercial Technology Transfers to the
Peoples Republic of China
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January 1999 -
The phenomenal economic growth witnessed in China since Deng Xiaoping first
declared China's "A Open Door" policy in 1978 has led many to predict
China's certain emergence as an economic superpower in the early 21st Century.
Indeed, China has followed a structured path toward gradual market reform of
its still largely state-owned industrial sector, which has been transfused with
increasing amounts of foreign capital and technology.
There have been numerous reports over the last several years, however, of US
companies being "forced" to transfer technology to China in exchange
for access to this enormous market. The purpose of his study is to assess the
extent to which US commercial technology is being, in effect,
"coerced" from US companies engaged in normal business practices and
joint ventures in China in exchange for access to Chinas market. The
cumulative effect these transfers may have on Chinas efforts to modernize
its economy as well as its industrial and military base is also examined.
Finally, this study addresses the impact of US technology transfers to China on
the issues of long-term US global competitiveness and broad economic and
national security interests.
PART 1: TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER - CHINESE POLICIES AND PROCESSES
The first section of this study addresses Chinas foreign investment
and trade policies, regulations, and practices, which largely explain how and
why US technology is being transferred to China. The answer lies in the
underlying and stated objectives of Chinas foreign investment and trade
policies, the goals of which are modernization and self-sufficiency of
Chinas industrial and military sectors. The transfer of US and other
Western technology plays an important role in these efforts. This section,
therefore, describes Chinas policies regarding reform of its scientific
and research and development institutions; Chinas ability to absorb,
assimilate, and innovate transferred technology; as well as the emerging role
of US high-tech firms in Chinas science, technology, and research
Science and Technology
- Chinas large-scale science and technology development plans and
projects are dependent upon indigenous research and technological advances as
well as foreign investment, research, and technology. Comparative analysis of
Chinas rules and regulations regarding domestic and foreign investment in
these and other state-run programs reveals discriminatory provisions regarding
the rights and obligations of foreign partners. As a result, US companies
currently engaged in collaborative research under the aegis of these state
plans risk losing the monetary and technological gains from their investments.
Research and Development
- By 1993, more than half of Chinas large state-owned enterprises
(SOEs) had established technical development centers, founded for the purpose
of improving production efficiency as well as increased product quality and
marketability. Chinas policies for industrial and commercial reforms
continue to emphasize the need for cooperation among Chinas industrial,
commercial, and research enterprises in an effort to bolster the revenues of
Chinas state-owned enterprises and to modernize Chinas economy as a
whole. This effort has achieved mixed results to date.
- In an effort to spur domestic technological innovation and to diffuse
applied technologies across government, industry, scientific, and academic
communities, China has established numerous National Engineering Research
Centers (NERCs) across the country. These centers play a key role in
Chinas strategy to reform its science and technology research system and
are likely to become more prominent over time. The highly regarded Chinese
Academy of Sciences (CAS) has also established over 500 commercial enterprises
in the high-tech sector as part of a government program to develop
"technical enterprises" as subsidiaries of existing research
Chinas Ability to Absorb and Apply Technology
- China has no shortage of well-trained scientists, engineers,
mathematicians, or other technical experts, unlike the United States. Chinese
scholars educated abroad over the last decade reportedly make up more than half
of the top scientific researchers now working on key research projects and
receiving priority in conducting this research. As Chinas economic
reforms continue and older researchers retire before the turn of the century,
there will be more opportunities for Chinas younger, Western-educated,
science and technology-minded researchers and engineers. As a result, high-tech
firms in the United States and the government of the PRC are competing in some
cases today for the services of these same talented individuals.
- China is increasingly attractive for highly skilled, Western-trained
Chinese workers given the increased opportunities to work with US and other
high-tech firms in China. This fact plus the benefits that accrue to the US
firm as a result, make it likely that the trend toward US high-tech firms
establishing joint ventures accompanied by R&D and training centers in
China will continue for the foreseeable future.
Foreign Direct Investment
- Chinas investment policies are explicit in the type of foreign
investment that is "prohibited," "permitted," or
"encouraged," with the latter category focusing on advanced
technologies. Foreign investors in high-tech industries enjoy preferential
treatment, such as tax rebates and lower tariff rates as incentive to transfer
technology, but are at the same time subject to regulations not imposed on
- Chinas investment policies are geared toward shifting foreign
investment into the central and Western parts of China. As this trend takes
hold, US companies will have to carefully determine the end use or end-user of
US high-tech, potentially dual-use goods. Chinas national laboratories
and the majority of Chinas military/defense industrial enterprises are
located in this region, some of which are involved in foreign joint ventures.
- The amount of FDI coming into China reached a peak of $111,436 million and
83,437 new contracts in 1993. The greatest growth has been in the number and
value of joint venture contracts, although the number of overall contracts has
decreased since 1993. Chinas investment and industrial policies
frequently include explicit provisions for technology transfers in the form of
local content requirements, production export quotas, and/or collaboration in
production, research or training.
- China receives more foreign direct investment than any other developing
nation and currently ranks second only the United States. In 1996, the US
contribution to Chinas FDI inflow was almost $3 billion, much of which
was invested in manufacturing enterprises. The US is among the top FDI
contributors to China.
- The rate of Chinese utilization of FDI (contracts or investments that are
actually implemented or used) amounted in 1996 to over 50 percent, for the
first time since 1990. This indicates that Chinese officials and enterprises
are making better use of, and can better absorb, foreign capital and the
technology that typically accompanies it.
- Exports outnumber imports in Chinas top trading, coastal zones
(except in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin, where imports exceeded
exports in 1996). According to Chinese statistics, the share of Chinese exports
produced in foreign-invested plants (either joint ventures or wholly foreign
owned enterprises) has grown significantly over the last decade, accounting for
nearly half of all exports in 1996.
- In the effort to develop indigenous high-tech industries, China's foreign
import and investment policies have become increasingly selective and
restrictive in the type of imports and investments that are allowed or
officially encouraged. In particular, there has been an increased emphasis on
industry-specific investment and high-technology imports.
- The Chinese leadership has identified several industrial sectors as
"pillar" industries, namely machinery, electronics, petrochemicals,
automobiles and construction materials. The central government will provide
more than $60 billion through the year 2000 to promote domestic capabilities in
these industries. These pillar industries will be developed with preferential
state support as the primary engines of continued economic growth in China.
- Chinas economic and industrial development strategies and defense
conversion programs are also intended to assist Chinas military
- Chinas military capabilities are considered by Western and US
analysts to be far behind in terms of Western models of military technology as
well as in command, control, and force structure. However, the extent to which
the commercial activities of Chinas civilian defense industrial complex
are tied to the uniformed military departments (PLA) is not well understood in
the West. More research is needed on this issue.
The Role of US Technology
- One of the more common approaches to establishing a presence as well as
goodwill in China is by donating equipment or funds for training or education
in China. Numerous US high-tech firms have done so, often in connection with
one of Chinas leading universities or research centers.
- The most significant commercial offset and/or initiative put forward by US
high-tech companies in seeking approval for joint venture manufacturing
partnerships or facilities in China is the establishment of an institution,
center, or lab devoted to joint research and development. This is a relatively
recent trend and involves many US firms in several high-tech sectors in China.
Compared to donations of equipment and scholarships as well as training for
Chinese workers, the new R&D initiatives would appear to involve more
technology transfer to China. The extent of collaboration and product
development, however, is as yet unclear.
PART 2: US PERSPECTIVES ON TECHNOLOGY TRANSFERS TO CHINA
This section examines US investments in three key industry sectors in China:
automotive, aerospace, electronics (including telecommunications). Each case
study assesses the relationship between investment by high-tech US firms and
provisions in Chinas investment or industrial policies, competition with
Chinas state-owned or non-state sector enterprises, the effect of
Chinas infrastructure on investment, and the current state of the
industry in China. Also addressed are technological or potential military
advances that could result from US commercial technology transfers. Trade
statistics are included as a means of assessing the effect(s) of US high-tech
investment in these areas. Finally, a brief examination is made with regard to
the approaches to technology transfers taken by the European Union nations and
Japan, and contrasting these to the prevailing US view.
- The dynamism of Chinas relatively rapid economic liberalization since
1978 has overshadowed in large part Chinas industrial goals and policies
that are explicitly designed to restrict and manage foreign investment in order
to protect and bolster Chinas domestic industries through acquisition of
- While numerous complaints have been registered by US companies with the US
Government (formally and informally) with regard to unfair trade practices in
China, many companies are hesitant, if not unwilling, to complain publicly or
even privately about the numerous difficulties inherent in doing business in
China. Nevertheless, the majority of industry representatives interviewed for
this study clearly stated that technology transfers are required to do business
in China, although most also were optimistic about their future business
prospects in China. They also did not think the "price" had yet
become too high in terms of the level or type of technology transferred as a
- Chinas is a buyers market. As such, the leverage of such an
enormous potential market allows Chinese officials to frequently play foreign
competitors against one another in their bids for joint venture contracts and
large-scale, government-funded infrastructure projects in China. The typical
result is usually more technology being transferred as competitors bid up the
level or type of technology that they are willing to offer. There are also
recent cases, however, of foreign companies joining forces with domestic or
foreign companies in the same industry in order to enhance their own leverage.
Microsoft, DEC, and Oracle, for instance, have joined forces in selling
software in China and Exxon, Raytheon, Dupont, and Union Carbide have teamed up
with Japanese companies in China. Although cooperation may not be possible
across all industries, where such an arrangement is possible, there will likely
be less technology being transferred or coerced from foreign firms.
- The answer given most often in interviews and in press reports as to why,
despite demands made for commercial technology transfers and other unfair trade
practices in China, US industry continues to invest heavily in China is that
one cannot not be in China lest a competitor get a foothold. US
high-tech firms seem willing to pay the price in technology transfers - in
exchange for limited market access.
- US high-tech firms in China enjoy large market shares in the aerospace and
electronics industries, although not in the automotive sector. Despite several
years of high-level investment in China, however, survey data and press reports
indicate that relatively few US companies are realizing profits or even a
return on their investments in China.
- Chinas electronics sector, more than the other industry sectors
studied, has emerged rapidly and achieved some technological successes. This is
because of the sheer size of Chinas market, the learning curve in the
electronics industry (the potential for "fast followers" based on the
success of other Asian nations in this sector), and the potential for
"leapfrogging" to the most advanced technologies (which Chinas
comparatively immature electronics market and infrastructure makes more
likely). Chinas capacity and increasing sophistication in the electronics
sector could, if current trends continue, easily make China a leading producer
(by volume) of electronics in the next decade or two. However, Chinas
electronics industry remains highly dependent on foreign inputs for design,
marketing, and R&D.
- While the EU has fully and officially embraced technology transfers to
China, Japan has been in the past more conservative in investing or sharing its
advanced technologies, while the United States approach has been
somewhere in the middle.
Conclusion: US Commercial Technology Transfers to China
This section addresses the potential short- and long-term economic and
security implications of US technology transfers to the People's Republic of
China. The conclusion addresses the basic questions that this study is designed
to answer: "Is the transfer of US technology the price of entry into
Chinas market?," and "Are US commercial technology transfers
forced?" The following are key findings resulting from this study:
- According to experts and executives interviewed for this study, the
transfer of advanced US technology is the price of market access in China for
US high-tech companies.
- Most US and other foreign investors in China thus far seem willing to pay
the price of technology transfers - even "state-of-the-art technologies -
in order to "gain a foothold" or to "establish a beachhead"
in China with the expectation that the countrys enormous market potential
eventually will be realized. A primary motivation for investing in China at
this time and despite the difficulties and risks involved, is in order to beat
foreign and domestic competitors to the China market.
- Numerous US high-tech firms have agreed to commercial offset or technology
transfer agreements in exchange for joint ventures and limited market access in
China. An increasingly frequent type of commercial offset is the establishment
of a training or R&D center, institute, or lab, typically with one of
Chinas premier universities or research institutes located in Beijing or
- Technology transfer is both mandated in Chinese regulations or industrial
policies (with which US companies wishing to invest in China must comply)
and used as a deal-maker or sweetener by US firms seeking joint venture
contracts in China.
- Unless significant changes are made to Chinas current investment
regulations and import/export policies, US commercial technology transfers to
China are likely to continue, potentially enhancing Chinese competitiveness in
high-technology industry sectors such as aerospace and electronics. The
US-China trade imbalance may continue to worsen in the short term as commercial
offset demands and foreign-invested enterprise exports increase and in the long
term as Chinas plans to develop indigenous capabilities in both basic and
advanced technology industries are implemented.
- In the industry sectors studied, it is apparent that what technological
advances and increased exports exist are disproportionately due to foreign
investment capital and technology rather than to indigenous technological
- The US export control review process is not designed to evaluate continuing
US commercial technology transfers to China that are demanded or offered in
exchange for market access.
- Although it is not possible to make a clear determination of the US
national security implications of commercial US technology transfers to China,
the continuation of the trends identified in this study could pose long-term
challenges to US national security interests. This study does not identify any
specific Chinese military advances made as a result of US commercial technology
transfers, but does suggest that continued pressures on foreign high-tech firms
to transfer advanced commercial technologies, if successful, could indirectly
benefit Chinas efforts to modernize its military.