China's technology post-Christmas wishlist

Here we go again… Every five years, China’s government agency in charge of economic development – the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) – publishes a five-year plan which reads a bit like a Christmas wishlist. This time, the 11th “Five-Year Plan for High-Tech Industrialization”, which covers the 2010-2015 period, includes 16 high-tech industrialization projects.

Among them, one can find integrated circuit, the next-generation Internet, new-generation mobile communication, digital audio-video frequency, information safety, bio-medicine, bio-medical engineering, satellite application as well as modern traditional Chinese drugs! The plan suggests fostering a number of backbone enterprises (aka national champions) to industrialize these products. In other words, the Chinese government puts its money where its mouth is.

Sceptics may wonder whether a top-down, government-led approach is the best way to come up with technological innovation. Be it for the roll-out of telecommunication networks or the launch of a taikonaut, Chinese government agencies (granted, with a little help of statistical creativity) have often reached, if not gone beyond, planned objectives.

What really differs this time is that the success (or failure) of the technological projects will have a strong impact on technological innovation in the West. China has now emerged from the catching up mode: it intends to set trends and create its own intellectual property.