The TNTlog, which describes itself as “Taking The Rational View of Nanotechnologies Since 2000,” picked up our post on China’s growing nanotechnology research and, in a post entitled, “The Nanotech Dragon,” pretty much pooh-poohed it — probably rightfully.

The post starts out by attributing much of the hoopla regarding Chinese nanotech in the Western media to those seeking increased nanotech funding in the US:

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.

TNTlog concludes by saying the United States should not be terribly worried about China R&D, but much of Europe should be:

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 GDP on R&D than Spain and Portugal (who prefer to spend theirs on building new buildings), Italy, and most of eastern Europe.

Earlier this year, we did a post on a newspaper interview with China Law Blog’s own Steve Dickinson, in which Steve had the following to say in response to Washington State’s governor, Christine Gregoire, talking about the need to fund education to keep up with China”:

Is China then the force to fear?

It can look that way. But looks deceive, says Steve Dickinson, who lives in northern China [actually now in Shanghai] as an international trade attorney for the Seattle firm of Harris Bricken.

‘China is much, much, much weaker than it looks,’ he said in a recent interview.

‘The West doesn’t understand China very well and, frankly, China doesn’t understand China very well,’ Dickinson said. ‘The economy has taken off in a way no one understands really what’s going on.

‘(But) it doesn’t have the financial capital; it doesn’t have the intellectual capital. And the role it’s falling into is as a low-level, low-cost manufacturing component in a worldwide system of manufacturing.’

Yet Dickinson, like Gregoire, believes sharpening Washington’s intellectual capital gives our state the best edge.

‘Our competitive advantage is our brains and our skills,’ he said. ‘We need to stay ahead on that. If we don’t fund brains and skills, we’ll get overtaken by someone. Maybe not China, but someone.’

The TNTlog post also had a fascinating graphic on the “World of R&D,” showing the number of engineers/scientists per million people and the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a percentage of GDP.  Finland does the best by far, with Sweden, Japan, Denmark, and the United States trailing.  China does far less well, placing fairly near the bottom.  This graphic is based on this Batelle Institute study.

  • Just came cross a news about two Chinese in Silicon Valley stealing company secret are charged with the “economic espionage to benefit China” by the FBI. ( ) It’s pretty interesting how the article describing the Chinese 863 national science fund:
    “China’s central government runs a program linked to its military, dubbed 863, that invests in companies with innovative technologies and that the FBI suspects is involved in many economic-espionage cases.”
    863 is actually a pretty transparent program, even has English on its web site . So much fact check for the journalists.

  • Dan:
    I saw your comments on TNTLog (Tim Harper), but must say that McKinsey is just another consulting firm that hires fresh-out-of-school whippersnappers and does a great disservice to the companies, which hire them. (Just ask Jack Welch, formerly of GE.) I will be the first one to admit that anything that comes out of a “closed society,” such as China, will be have to viewed with a grain of salt. However, the sheer number is quite alarming (to us, the Americans, of course). One must also remember that a dollar could be stretched much further in China and India than most other places, certainly in the U. S.
    Also, one must bear in mind that cultures in China and India are vastly defferent from ours in that they emphasize education, above all, and that all children must aspire to get a good education. Granted that those two countries’ value-systems are deteriorating, which may prove to be their undoing in the long run.
    To make matters worse, nanotechnology encompassses all disciplines and can be used for detrimental purposes, too. To succeed at nanotechnology, unlike semiconductors (realizing completely that nanotechnology cuts across the semiconductor sector, also), one country needs strength at fundamental disciplines, such as chemistry, physics, biology, and mathematics, just to name a few. Semiconductor sector needed vast capital infrastructure, whereas nanotechnology (from a nanomaterials perspective) really does not. Hence, I would beg to differ with the application of Steve Dickinson’s perspective (with all due respect to him) acrosss the board. However, I do agree wholeheartedly with Steve Dickinson that if we do not invest in our “intellectual capital,” then we will lose our competitive edge REALLY fast. By the way, China’s GDP , by some estimates, is expected to surpass the U. S. by 2025.
    As regards Battelle’s graphic on “World of R & D 2005,” you must know that those figures are normalized to the population. We must also consider the absolute numbers to get another dimension on this figure. Furthermore, one must consider the pace at which those numbers are growing.
    If you are interested, then you can visit my blog at to understand the implications of nanotechnology on our national security.

  • Mr. Li —
    Thanks for checking in. I have no doubt that Silicon Valley has been crawling with Chinese spies for years and I also have no doubt China is doing nanotechnology research for military as well as commercial usage.

  • Nano Guru —
    Thanks for checking in.
    McKinsey is not “just another consulting firm:” it is one of the best in the world and their reports tend to be first rate. I am a big Jack Welch fan (who cannot be?) and a GE shareholder, but I am not familiar with his concerns re McKinsey. I am guessing he does not like outside consulting firms in general not because he thinks they do not know what they are doing, but because a company like GE ought to be able to duplicate much of what McKinsey can do, but do so with increased company (in this case, GE) knowledge.
    You say the sheer number is quite alarming to us, but I am not sure to what number you are referring. I agree that a dollar goes much farther in China than in the United States, but the Battelle study seems to account for that. I also do not understand your comment on the education cultures of China and India as compared to the United States. There are plenty of people in the United States who value a good education, but the real question is not how many value a good education, it is how many are getting one and the reality is that China’s education system is pretty much a mess right now. It was to that Steve was speaking in the interview.
    Not saying the United States need not worry, because we do, but China has a long way to go before it starts producing U.S. caliber scientists and engineers in the numbers being produced in the U.S.

  • A dollar doesn’t go as far in China in term of the high tech researches, especially in the Nano tech area. Actually, in the high tech area of researches using 863 as a yardstick, it actually cost more to China to accomplish the same task as its in the US. Take software as an example, it takes 863 millions of US dollars to barely approach a couple open source kids can accomplish in the US. Just look at the spending of 863 on middleware and comparing to the open source offering from JBoss or Apache.
    For nano tech, the brain drain is actually more of a problem for the US in the long run. It’s getting harder and harder to see white in the graduate schools around the US. The technologies we are benefit from today: laser, Internet, microwave and others are really the result from the generation of inspired engineers answered to Kennedy’s call. Engineering become too hard and the hype of outsourcing turned off too many in the states to go to engineering schools. The MySpace generations are encouraged to avoid jobs easily being outsourced. Silicon Valley are fighting hard in congress to increase F-1 (student visa) and H-1 (work visa) because they need the infusion of new talents into the circulation. There are many Zhang and Raji in the nanotech papers published today but look at their affilication: MIT, Stanford, and Berkeley. Those schools don’t sound Chinese or Indian to me.
    Chinese’s researches institutes are not structured to do fundamental researches, especially in the area like nanotech. There will be some weaving the nanotech flag to get government grants but unlikely to have an impact in years to come.
    The real threat will be the frustrated foreigner born scientists returning home to start their venture. Steve Chen, a pioneer of super computer of Cray X-MP, has moved to Shenzhen ( ). Vinod Dham, father of Pentium has returned to Indian. They are both American (see their passports) and their works will benefit the American investors. However, they are laying out the real foundation for next generation of Chinese scientists and engineers, many of whom may had gone to the US without these venture by the forebears. “New Argonauts” ( ) is a good book on the subject.
    I think it makes no sense to speak of nanotech at the national level while the companies controlling them are all multinationals linking up in a global supply chains. We are living at an era of a blurry national boundary. Lenovo, the Chinese company, probably design and produce more notebooks on US soil then the all American brands like HP or Dell. Same goes to cars. The trade agreement makes it better for BMW, Toyota and Honda to make cars in US and Ford and GM to make them in Mexico.

  • Well, for the Chinese spies in Silicon Valley, I have no doubt that Silicon Valley is crawled with spies from just about any nation with a hi-tech ambitions. In fact, “spying” is the virtue of silicon valley. Engineers unhappy will the current companies often can pack up and get jobs in the competitors across street. It was the healthy exchange of ideas which makes Silicon Valley advancing so fast.
    It was kind of shocking when Cisco took Huawei to court for pirating it’s NOS. NOS is really an open secret in silicon valley, just about every serious network engineers have a copy. Many networking startup bootstrap their ideas using NOS as base. Cisco loves that since it mean Cisco can move the risk of investing in R&D to the venture capital and just cheery pick for acquisitions. Huawei offered no option for Cisco to acquire and has stepped on the toe of Cisco by entering US market. Cisco had no option but to launch it first IP litigation.

  • Mr. Li (I) —
    Thanks for checking in. You make some very good points about the mobility of scientists and engineers and I am glad you mentioned the book, The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy, by AnnaLee Saxenian, which I have not read, but have read much about.
    In fact, I think it might be helpful if I just set out the brief summary of the book given on Amazon:
    Argonauts, Saxenian’s mythic term for global commuters employed in the high tech sector, are not the ominous invaders American economic isolationists fear-stealing jobs and ideas from Americans and spiriting them abroad. Rather, Saxenian argues, such global entrepreneurs have created domestic and foreign jobs and reduced the cost of technology for businesses and consumers. Saxenian is at her best when describing the relatively short history of the international entrepreneur-commuter: the Argonauts, though equipped with Ph.D.s from American universities, hit ethnicity-based glass ceilings in the States and chose entrepreneurship over floundering in middle-management. Bright, young, foreign-born entrepreneurs formed technology companies (with the help of western venture capital and management theory) in their home countries and succeeded where traditional development initiatives failed. However, when Saxenian projects the implications of Argonaut activity or their future, she sounds prematurely optimistic; some readers may have a hard time envisioning, as Saxenian does, widespread future interglobal cooperation aimed at solving humanity’s problems.

  • Mr. Li (II) —
    I agree Silicon Valley is crawling with spies from all over, not just China. I seem to recall a couple of French spying scandals a couple of years ago, but since France is a friend of the United States (with friends like that, who needs enemies?????) it probably got pushed under the proverbial rug.
    I do not know enough to comment on why Cisco sued Huawei, but it could have been for a million reasons, only some of which were law related.

  • For a quick peek inside the book “The New Argonauts,” here is the author AnnaLee Saxenian’s podcast interview on the subject.

  • Mr. Li —
    Thanks for providing the link. I will check it out, but I still really do want to read the book someday as well.