A new study of worldwide technological competitiveness suggests China may soon rival the United States as the principal driver of the world's economy -- a position the U.S. has held since the end of World War II. If that happens, it will mark the first time in nearly a century that two nations have competed for leadership as equals.
According to a study titled: Move Over US -- China To Be New Driver Of World's Economy And Innovation, published by the Georgia Institute of Technology earlier this year, indicators predict that China will soon pass the United States in the critical ability to develop basic science and technology, turn those developments into products and services -- and then market them to the world. Though China is often seen as just a low-cost producer of manufactured goods, the new "High Tech Indicators" study done by researchers clearly shows that the Asian powerhouse has much bigger aspirations.
"For the first time in nearly a century, we see leadership in basic research and the economic ability to pursue the benefits of that research -- to create and market products based on research -- in more than one place on the planet," said Nils Newman, co-author of the U.S.based National Science Foundation-supported study. "Since World War II, the United States has been the main driver of the global economy. Now we have a situation in which technology products are going to be appearing in the marketplace that were not developed or commercialized here. We won't have had any involvement with them and may not even know they are coming."
Georgia Tech has been gathering the high tech indicators since the mid-1980s, when the concern was which country would be the "next Japan" as a competitive producer and exporter of technology products. The current "HTI-2007" information was gathered for use in the NSF's biennial report, "Science and Engineering Indicators," the most recent of which was released January 15 of this year and reviewed by Science Daily Magazine.
Georgia Tech's "High Tech Indicators" study ranks 33 nations relative to one another on "technological standing," an output factor that indicates each nation's recent success in exporting high technology products. Four major input factors help build future technological standing: national orientation toward technological competitiveness, socioeconomic infrastructure, technological infrastructure and productive capacity. Each of the indicators is based on a combination of statistical data and expert opinions.
A chart showing change in the technological standing of the 33 nations is dominated by one feature -- a long and continuous upward line that shows China moving from "in the weeds" to world technological leadership over the past 15 years.
The 2007 statistics show China with a technological standing of 82.8, compared to 76.1 for the United States, 66.8 for Germany and 66.0 for Japan. Just 11 years ago, China's score was only 22.5. The United States peaked in 1999 with a score of 95.4.
The United States and Japan have both fallen in relative technological standing -- though not absolute measures -- because of the dramatic rise of China and other nations such as the "Asian Tigers:" South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. Japan has faltered a bit over time, and if the increasingly-integrated European Union were considered one entity instead of 27 separate countries, it would surpass the United States.
Most industrialized countries reach a kind of equilibrium in the study, moving up slightly in one data set, or down slightly in another. But the study shows no interruptions in China's advance.
China's emphasis on training scientists and engineers -- who conduct the research needed to maintain technological competitiveness -- suggests it will continue to grow its ability to innovate. In the United States, the training of scientists and engineers has lagged, and post-9/11 immigration barriers have kept out international scholars who could help fill the gap.
"For scientists and engineers, China now has less than half as many as we do, but they have a lot of growing room," noted Newman. "It would be difficult for the United States to get much better in this area, and it would be very easy for us to get worse. It would be very easy for the Chinese to get better because they have more room to maneuver."
China is becoming a leader in research and development, Porter noted. For instance, China now leads the world in publications on nanotechnology, though U.S. papers still receive more citations.
On the input indicators calculated for 2007, China lags behind the United States. In "national orientation," China won a score of 62.6, compared to 78.0 for the United States.
In "socioeconomic infrastructure," China rated 61.2, compared to 87.9 for the United States. In the other two factors, China also was behind the U.S., 60.0 versus 95.5 for "technological infrastructure" and 85.2 versus 93.4 for "productive capacity."
China has been dramatically improving its input scores, which portends even stronger technological competitiveness in the future.
"It's like being 40 years old and playing basketball against a competitor who's only 12 years old -- but is already at your height," Newman said. "You are a little better right now and have more experience, but you're not going to squeeze much more performance out. The future clearly doesn't look good for the United States."
It will be interesting to see how we in the Okanagan design our future economy from a doorstep where we can view both the American and Pacific Rim marketplace.
Don Elzer writes and comments about the future, current affairs, lifestyle and the natural world. He is a director of the Watershed Intelligence Network publishers of The Monster Guide, which can be found at www.themonsterguide.com
He can also be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Don Elzer
As the North Okanagan begins to consider the idea of an inland port it would be wise for all of us to begin to ponder just how global trade will change in this upcoming decade.
We’re well positioned to trade with both the United States and China, the two economic giants now dominating trade on the planet. However, so far both countries are hungry for our natural resources with little interest in our manufactured goods, in fact balanced trade to them means us buying their manufactured goods and Canada making natural resources easily accessible to them.
The taste for Canadian made products remains very thin in both countries as they become preoccupied with competing against one another for economic dominance.
Regionally, the Okanagan has a trade imbalance, we demand consumer goods from overseas markets and we produce very little, and even our natural resources such as forest products remain in a slump.
There’s much we can learn from China as they grow their economy from manufacturing.