More Less
Why China Will Never Lead in Technology by Stealing It

SIMONE GAO: Can China become a tech superpower by stealing other companies’ technology?

WEN ZHAO: Well, to answer this question, we must understand that, actually, innovation does not mean merely acquiring a patent. It is a process of a great deal of trial and error. Such a setback-experiencing process is very valuable. It sharpens your ideas or insights in a certain field. It helps you build up experience and gives you insights. It’s a blunder to assume that stealing away design drawings or secret data means mastering knowledge. That sounds like a kung fu story in which a thief daydreams he’s the No. 1 martial arts master in the world if he seizes a rare, secret martial arts manuscript.

But that’s not possible. Innovation is a process, and means quality, which will become a habit and an ethical value among scientists in the end. It has to be nurtured bit by bit in daily work. Another point: Innovation usually starts from a tiny, local beginning. It requires solid accumulation before a great breakthrough comes. However, if you exchange access to the market for technology and import complete sets of technology and capacity, as in China’s auto industry, you cannot assimilate them without local innovation as a support.

You can never create a complete technical system at the very beginning. Then you’ll have to depend on forced technical transfer or theft again. When others’ technology is upgraded, you’ll have to keep stealing because you don’t have any innovation abilities. So, the conflict worsens. This is true with many of China’s fields. Under these circumstances, China will never be a top country in technology.