The Nanotech Dragon

world of R&D.jpg

A guaranteed way to get attention or funding, especially from US politicians is to claim that China is ahead of, or closing the gap with the US, which is just what Robert Cresanti, undersecretary for technology at the US Department of Commerce has done with nanotech.

The conclusion is based on two premises. Firstly that China’s new research plan lists nanotechnology as a major priority, describing it as an “area where China may be able to ‘leapfrog’ wealthier nations,” and secondly the observation that ‘We saw labs today full to the rafters with scientists and machinery. There has also been a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of papers on nanotechnology published by Chinese scientists.’

Coincidentally, a new survey of global R&D spending by Battelle puts China in 4th place behind India, Japan and the US. The Batelle numbers show that China has been growing at an annual rate of about 17%, compared to the 4% to 5% annual growth rates reported for the U.S., Japan and the European Union over the past dozen years, but makes no comment on the quality of the research. As David Li comments at China Law Blog, much of the research is in response to other nations rather than being truly innovative.

Should the US be worried? From what we see, probably not yet. However the world is changing and Chinese R&D will increase in global importance, so it is up to Europe, the US and Japan to make use of the vast resources becoming available in both China and India.

The results are perhaps more worrying for Europe, as China already spends a higher proportion of its GDB on R&D than Spain and Portugal (who prefer to spend theirs on building new buildings), Italy, and most of eastern Europe.

Comments 4

  1. Thanks for doing this post as it goes a long way towards confirming my supicions in an area that is way out of my depth. As you mention, there is nothing better for spurring increases in educational funding and research grants than saying China is gaining on us. But, your descriptions of where China is on nanotechnology pretty much coincide with where it is on everything else so it comes as no surprise to me.

    My favorite one is the greatly exaggerated number of graduating engineers in China that we are always reading about in the press. Numbers like 600,000 get thrown around, but McKinsey & Co. has concluded that China has a total of around 15,000 engineers who have the skill set necessary to work for a multinational.

  2. Dan (China Law Blog):

    With all due respect to you, McKinsey is another 800-lb gorilla that is more often wrong than not. They are still ridng on their erstwhile cachet, while doing a great disservice to all of us. I will admit that the numbers coming out of China are “usually” greatly exaggerated (as is common in many “closed” societies).

    However, I am afraid that you are narrowly focusing on their ability to work for a “multinational.” Let me aks you one question: what if we, Americans, were to work with a Chinese company? It has already started to become a reality in China and India.

    By the way, I must say that I like your blog. 🙂


    Thanks for the appropriate answer to Duke’s question. However, are thoes stocks not too expensive for a “poor” person to get in and “strike it rich”?

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