Ex-official talks down dominance in hi-tech

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2006, 12:00am

A former top mainland statistician yesterday sought to play down the significance of the country's position as the world's biggest information technology exporter, saying mainland manufacturers had little control over the know-how behind the goods produced.

'It's true that we're selling tonnes of IT products to the world market, but we cannot automatically assume that we can live up to that title,' Li Deshui , former director of the National Bureau of Statistics, told the Annual Economic Conference of the China IT Industry in Beijing.

Last year the Paris-based OECD put the mainland - with US$180 billion in exports in 2004 - at the top of a list of world IT exporters, outperforming the US for the first time.

Mr Li, who was appointed a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference after he retired from the National Bureau of Statistics in March, said the report was greeted with unease by the central government and his agency was ordered to review the figures. The agency found the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development survey was basically in line with official statistics.

'But in the same way when you buy something, it doesn't mean you own the technologies inside,' Mr Li said.

He said official data showed that domestic manufacturers owned less than 30 per cent of IT patents on the mainland and only 20 per cent of patents in digital machinery technology.

Mr Li's assessment offered a rare insight into top-level frustration over China's exclusion from some of the world's core advanced technologies, despite years of government attempts to woo western firms to share their research and development capabilities with promises of being given access to wider markets.