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The Neglected Sources of China's Economic Resilience

Many China-watchers are pessimistic about its prospects, arguing that it remains overly reliant on Western technology. But thanks to a huge, interconnected market, and an exceptional capacity for learning, the entrepreneurial impulse driving China’s development remains strong.

SHANGHAI – Over the last 20 years, a number of thriving technology companies have emerged in China. This has invited much speculation about the country’s scientific and technological prowess, and about its ability to innovate. Some argue that China is already nipping at America’s heels in these domains, and has become a world leader in some sectors. Others believe that China is not quite as far along as it may appear, and the government’s regulatory clampdown on tech companies will impede its continued progress. Which is it?

Those who doubt China’s progress emphasize the country’s reliance on Western technology, pointing out that its homegrown tech companies still do not compete with their American counterparts globally. But China optimists note that those companies continue their rapid international expansion, a reflection of China’s exceptional capacity for learning.

The latter camp has a point. In fact, China’s capacity for learning is the secret to the country’s economic success, and it says much more about China’s prospects than where the country stands technologically. After all, technological innovation is less an input than an output of entrepreneur-led economic development. It is by building thriving businesses that entrepreneurs gain opportunities to develop new technologies and applications.

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