China’s tech revolution: unprecedented scale, mixed results

A report card from consumer internet to hard tech.

19 Oct 2021

50 minutes

Chris Miller
Investment Institute

It’s a rocket, but it’s not rocket science

In December 2020, China’s Chang’e 5 mission touched down on the moon to collect rock samples. Three weeks later, the lunar module returned to earth carrying a cargo of more than four pounds of samples, the first such mission to be completed in more than forty years. China became the third country after the US and the former Soviet Union to return samples from the moon. This is remarkable progress, but when assessing China’s core mission to achieve independence in technology-based industries, it helps us ask questions such as: despite some clear success stories, why is China still importing around half of the key components needed to build commercial jetliners?

Further understanding the true extent of China’s technological progress was behind our decision to engage Chris Miller, Assistant Professor of Economic History and International History at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. We collaborated on an assessment of China’s progress developing technological independence. This is not just a discussion about China’s e-commerce or digital economy, but a close look at China’s industrial policy and the government’s efforts to develop new technology companies that can spur future growth and avoid the middle-income trap that has beset many other nations in their economic development. Beijing is placing billions of dollars of (venture capital) bets that state guidance and government subsidies can produce profitable companies with world-class technology to lift economic standards.

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Chris Miller
Investment Institute
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