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China must end cyberspying on US industry, look to its own innovation

The Pentagon accuses China of massive cyberspying on American industry to gain a competitive edge. Beijing has already invested heavily in innovation. Why not look to is own people for creativity?

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The National Information Security Engineering Center, a building commissioned by the People's Liberation Army's Cyber Unit, is seen on the outskirts of Shanghai. The unit is accused of being at the heart of China's cyber-war against Western commercial targets.

Reuters

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In a report on Monday, the Pentagon accused China of stealing innovative ideas from American industries for strategic gain. The complaint is hardly new in business circles. But the fact that the United States finally made it official and so explicit should force China’s leaders to answer two questions:

Why can’t China simply trust itself to be innovative? Why resort to such systematic pilfering, through cyber-espionage, reverse engineering, and other ways of stealing intellectual property?

Industrial theft is common in almost every country, including the US. But in China it is on such a high scale and at such an official level that the US government simply had to point a finger at Beijing. One American think tank, Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, estimated last year that China’s stealing of US intellectual property cost nearly 1 million US jobs in 2009.

What’s so odd is that China is making huge government investments in what it calls “independent innovation,” such as science parks and “hot” industries like clean energy. The country produces far more engineers than the US. Its official investment in research as a percent of gross domestic product has more than doubled since 2000. And its top scientific universities have gained global respect.

Creativity and a quest for the truth aren’t unique to any particular people. They’re universal. Research in science and technology requires such an attitude. “We learn from science [to be] open, honest, and fearless,” wrote Chinese physicist Fang Lizhi, in an autobiography published after his death last year. As a strongly independent intellectual, he criticized the suppression of truth by China’s Communist Party as well as the country’s supercompetitive education system that pushes students toward rote learning more than creative thinking.

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