Experts show faith in China's innovations

Updated: 2011-11-12 07:58

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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NEW YORK - When the author Rebecca Fannin talked three years ago about her book Silicon Dragon: How China Is Winning the Tech Race, she became the object of criticism from some in her audience.

But when her new book, Startup Asia: Top Strategies for Cashing in on Asia's Innovation Boom, hit the stalls, the reaction was different. In the intervening years between the two works, public attitudes toward her topic of choice had changed.

Innovation in China is not only a theme of the country's 12th Five-Year Plan, which concerns the years from 2011 to 2015, but is also a hot topic in the US. In New York, at least one large conference on Chinese innovation has taken place each month this year. And books and reports about Chinese innovation regularly make the headlines.

Fannin, who has talked to many entrepreneurs and visited high-tech parks in China, believes more energy is going into innovation in China than is in the US' Silicon Valley.

"It's like Silicon Valley in the dotcom boom," Fannin said. "Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are very optimistic about China becoming an innovation society. China is now moving up the ladder from 'made in China' to 'innovation in China'."

John Kao, who was dubbed "Mr Creativity" by The Economist and is now chairman of the San Francisco-based Institute for Large Scale Innovation, said he formed an opinion similar to Fannin's after traveling to China as a member of a US expert panel. While in the country, he toured science parks, business incubators, multinational labs and new businesses that are working in the life sciences and digital media.

"What has emerged is a rather startling picture of a country on the move, whose drumbeat is innovation," said Kao, author of Innovation Nation, which has been translated into Chinese.

Besides the government's five-year plan, which calls for innovation to be the country's driving force, there are other signs that China is on its way to becoming a brilliant innovator. The country is now responsible for 12.5 percent of the spending that goes toward research and development in the world, trailing only the US in that regard; it also has more engineering graduates than the US; and it contains more than 1,400 research-and-development centers established by foreign companies.

China now ranks with the countries whose companies file the largest numbers of patent applications. ZTE and Huawei, two telecom equipment manufacturers in China, were among the top four patent filers in the world this past year.

Haiyan Wang, managing partner with the Maryland-based consultancy China India Institute, said she is optimistic that China will become a great innovator in the next two or three decades.

She said China will move up the innovation ladder as a result of several causes.

Wang said China is pursuing innovation out of necessity, especially since it must regularly deal with resource shortages, a deteriorating environment, an aging population and rapid urbanization.

All of those forces are propelling China toward finding innovative products, solutions and business models.