Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on August 30, 2007
The OECD received a lot of well-deserved criticism last December after it came out with a report claiming that China had passed Japan to become the world’s second-biggest investor in R&D, behind only the U.S. My Asiatech blog post about the report, for instance, asked “Is the OECD hyping China’s R&D spending?” The answer: Yes. Now the OECD seems to be making amends. The organization has issued a new paper on innovation in China and thankfully the conclusions seem to be a lot more sober. “China still has a long way to go to build a modern, high-performance national innovation system,” the OECD reports in its press statement announcing the new report. Yes, China has made progress by investing in R&D. But according to the OECD, “much of this [investment] focused on the high-technology sector, updating equipment and facilities, and experimental research for new products rather than on basic research, the foundation of long-term innovation. More investment is needed in sectors such as services, energy, environmental technology and basic research.”
Some other problems, according to the OECD, include a potential shortage of skilled workers in science and technology. In the U.S., it’s popular for people bemoaning the sorry state of American education to point to the vastly higher numbers of science and technology students in Chinese universities, but according to the OECD, China faces a numbers crunch of its own. “In recent years, undergraduate degrees in science have even fallen in absolute terms,” the OECD reports. “China should improve the quality of science education to attract more students, with more emphasis on managerial expertise and entrepreneurship.” The report also criticizes Chinese business for its lack of innovation and points out that the Chinese financial system, dominated by state-owned banks, doesn’t foster an innovative climate for start-ups. And of course there’s the fact that China is the world’s center for trademark, patent and copyright theft. “To encourage domestic firms to innovate and benefit more from closer ties with R&D centres of foreign companies,” the OECD reports, “the government should enforce intellectual property rights (IPRs) more effectively and strengthen competition.” Other than the odd editing - do people really say IPRs instead of IPR? - there’s not much to criticize there.