Collaboration with China is essential

A report published this week should prompt the West to shake off any last shreds of complacency over China’s role in the global industrial landscape.

In the face of the rapid manufacturing growth of China, we in the West have frequently comforted ourselves with the thought that while we may not be able to compete with low labour costs, our research base and strength in intellectual property (IP) will assure us a place at the top industrial table for many years to come.

This may have been a compelling enough argument ten or fifteen years ago, but the cracks in this defence have been visible for some time now.

And while genuine concerns do persist about Chinese businesses riding roughshod over IP, the country can no longer be characterised as an entirely unregulated manufacturer of cheap alternatives. Boasting sophisticated operations in almost every area of industry – when China isn’t the only option, it’s often the preferred option. And with many Western businesses foundering on the rocks of recession, its relatively recession-proof economy is offering a potentially life-saving route to market.

A report published this week by Thomson Reuters – claiming that China’s research output far outpaces research activity in the rest of the world – should prompt the West to shake off any last shreds of complacency over the country’s role in the global industrial landscape.

Detailing the shifting patterns in global research, the report points to a huge acceleration in China’s research output – with the 112,000 research papers published in 2008 representing a doubling in output from just four years ago.

The report goes onto to predict that China will topple the USA as the world’s biggest researcher within the next decade and that it no longer depends on links to G8 partners to fund knowledge development. When Europe and the US visit – it says – they can only do so as equal partners.

For anyone still wedded to the notion that the West holds all the cards when it comes to research and development this is probably faintly chilling news.

But we prefer to view it as a powerful reminder that if economies such as the UK are to prosper, then increased collaboration with China is essential.

Jon Excell
Deputy Editor