Lost in Translation: Core Technology Can’t Be Bought



Lost in Translation: a series that highlights the substantial difference between economic statecraft messaging to international audiences (often in English) and domestic audiences (in the native language).

People’s Republic of China (PRC) leaders regularly extol the desirability and inevitability of the free flow of technology across borders to international audiences, but domestically they emphasize the necessity to control core technologies. 

International Audiences

To international audiences, promotes the desirability and inevitability of the free flow of technology across borders.  For example, during his Keynote Speech the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 17, 2017, General Secretary Xi Jinping said:

“Any attempt to cut off the flow of capital, technologies, products, industries and people between economies, and channel the waters in the ocean back into isolated lakes and creeks is simply not possible. Indeed, it runs counter to the historical trend.” [1]

Domestic PRC Audiences

To domestic audiences though, Xi emphasizes the strategic necessity of domestic control of core technologies, which are to be acquired through international cooperation.  For example, during his speech to domestic science and technology leaders at the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference on March 4, 2013, he said:

“Nowadays, the acquisition of relatively common technology is subject to various restrictions.  In the past, when [China] was weak, everyone wanted to sell us technology.  Today, now that China is developed, no one is willing to sell us technology because they’re afraid we’ll become bigger and stronger.   There can be no illusions about the acquisition of high and new technology – core technologies, especially national defense technologies, cannot be bought with money. People regard core technologies as a “magical weapon,” how is it possible they’ll provide it to us? Only if the core technology is grasped in our own hands can we really seize the initiative in competition and development, only then can we fundamentally guarantee national economic security, national defense, and other security. Of course, we can’t lock ourselves up from the world, we need to proactively develop technology exchanges with the outside, striving to use well the two kinds of science and technology resources – international and domestic.”[2]

[1] https://america.cgtn.com/2017/01/17/full-text-of-xi-jinping-keynote-at-the-world-economic-forum

[2] 在参加全国政协十二届一次会议科协、科技界委员联组讨论时的讲话. http://m.news.cctv.com/2018/04/18/ARTIdwgrDYHnPrJSoFdBWLd0180418.shtml