China: Master in Reverse Engineering

By Dr. Mohan Bhandari  Published on  15 Oct 2020 4:35 AM GMT
China: Master in Reverse Engineering

It should be abundantly clear now that in the years to come, the world shall be forced to live in a ‘Sino-centric’ environment that would experience an overbearing Dragon in all its manifestation. As US’s sheen & shine gets slowly abated, China has, on the other hand, over the last 40 years or so, successfully & silently worked to compete with the US as a significant tower of strength. The basic ingredient of this achievement has been a dramatic yet phenomenal economic growth with no hold bars, no principled approach & no compunctions. This entails Dragon competing for world hegemony leaving the US behind – also heralding the slow evaporation of Western universalism.

China has financed US budget deficits that mark the fragility of American prosperity. A crafty China kept behind iron curtains remains fully absorbed in scheming under the piercing eyes of a communist whip. Past Master in Copying & Reverse Engineering, China has virtually ripped open all technologies of the world by supplying on mass scale - cheap & unreliable products - thus amassing huge sums of money. The stamp of this art/ science of ‘REVERSE ENGINEERING’ can also be seen in almost all Chinese military hardware. It may be recalled that China was provided access by its all weather friend Pakistan to examine the downed helicopter in Osama’s Compound in Abbottabad, because Chinese engineers wanted to take samples of the ‘stealth’ skin that allowed the Seals to enter Pakistan undetected by radar.

China does not shy from claiming that it was a world leader in science & technology in ancient and early medieval times - courtesy the Four Great Inventions - papermaking (mostly from mulberry trees), wood-block printing, gunpowder (from saltpeter), and magnetic compass. Readers may remember these Four Great Inventions being showcased as one of the themes of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. These ideas and products traveled across the globe through the old Silk Road or were pirated through sea routes. By the 16th century, all of these had been adapted and improved upon in a number of countries mostly in Europe.

However, the scientific advances in other parts of the world, particularly in the Greco-Roman world, were no less significant. While the inward-facing Chinese culture, enveloped in religious and philosophical approach continued to stunt innovation and scientific growth, dynamic Europe took giant leaps to usher in the Scientific Revolution towards the end of the Renaissance Period (15th and 16th centuries).

England led the first Industrial Revolution in the latter half of the 18th century, primarily through the textile industry, and the US seized technological leadership through steel and chemicals to herald in late 19th century the second Industrial Revolution - also called the Technological Revolution. Electrification and automobiles were two major upshots. China continued to remain agrarian.

Though China continued to flourish owing to its vast natural resources and West's attraction to its enigmatic culture, it did not possibly foresee that the 'population bomb' had started ticking. The 100 million mark that lasted centuries until 1650 had swelled to an enormous 450 million by the late 19th century. Consequently, the authority of the state began to diminish. China also chose to distance itself from Western and Japanese economies and consequently had to face some humiliating military defeats that took away control over some of its ports by the first half of 19th century.

The Communists, with mostly peasants in its rank and file, were able to prevail and establish the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Nationalists had to move out to Taiwan (Old Formosa) and establish the Republic of China (ROC).

The following decades saw the phenomenal growth of Japan, who had not just embraced technology but taken it to a new level of excellence. The western world continued to prosper too and by the early 1970s, we had all been engulfed by the Digital Revolution (or the Third Industrial Revolution) led by US.

These failures over centuries and more particularly the astronomical progress of rival Japan significantly contributed to the feeling of humiliation amongst Chinese. Chairman Mao, the founding father of the PRC, established the "Great Leap Forward" plan from 1958-62 with the aim of surpassing Great Britain in industrial production by 1972. This Plan caused further ignominy as its faulty framework led to one of the greatest man-made disasters, known as the Great Chinese Famine (1959-61) and causing about 30 million deaths.

Mao's successor, Deng Xiaoping, renewed efforts to invigorate China by launching in 1978 the Four Modernization programmes in areas of agriculture, industry, defence, and science. These programmes saw China building its muscles quietly. Professing "Open Door Policy" he allowed privatization of businesses - yet enforced strict control over people's liberties including the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989.

To overshadow Japan and match other major industrial giants, it had a significant card up its sleeve - its sizable cheap labour. Some negative frameworks of the old command economy could still be allowed to exist to help private enterprises prosper. Labour exploitation was one of them. But what about the latest technology? China had fallen behind abysmally and had none. If the western and Japanese technology could somehow be accessed and utilized in industrial production, cheap labour would act as the magic potion and result in a tremendous low cost of goods advantage. This would then lead to mass production and generate substantial economies of scale.

The design to access this technology led to two approaches. One, lure large corporations to set up low-cost manufacturing in mainland China. Over time, these technologies could be spied upon and transferred to Chinese enterprises. Second, procure a product, strip/disassemble its components & reproduce identical using “REVERSE ENGINEERING. This involved flouting and violating the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) but if the violating businesses could be assured some kind of unwritten state sanction and protection, there was nothing much the victim foreign private enterprises could do. A shameless Dragon sans ethics has never bothered about similar malpractices in all fields.

Presently the manufacturing processes in the West have almost died. Japan too has moved part of its manufacturing to China. The manufacturing leadership has propelled China's economy to the second largest in the world. Most of the world is now dependent on mass-produced low quality Chinese goods. A more alarming fact is that many countries are being advanced ‘hidden debts’ by China and reportedly at least a dozen countries owe a debt of about 20% of their nominal GDP to China.

Having been successful in laying its hand on the best of R&D and technologies, China's ambition under Xi Jinping is to seize advantage from the US and establish China as the leader of the so-called "Fourth Industrial Revolution". This revolution would encompass forays in areas of big data, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology and quantum information.

US intervention to tame Huiwei's thrust into the 5G market and to coerce Tiktok to become a US corporation owned entity are apparently part of thwarting this Chinese ambition.

It is high time that India with her great talents become totally self-dependent.

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