Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Watson Working Paper Series. “Teams of Rivals: China, the U.S., and the Race to Develop Technologies for a Sustainable Energy Future,” by Edward Steinfeld

May 18, 2015

Despite sharing a common interest in addressing climate change, when it comes to commercializing technologies for sustainable energy use, China and the United States are locked in rancor. The prevailing American view is that Chinese firms, rather than innovating, compete on the basis of mimicry, technology theft, and government subsidization. This paper, while not denying the evidence for technology duplication, illuminates three additional aspects of empirical reality: Chinese industrial innovation; multidirectional learning between Chinese and non-Chinese technology firms; and complementary, tiered development across Chinese and advanced industrial commercial innovators. The existence of these cross-border collaborative phenomena, while not invalidating the additional reality of inter-state commercial rivalry, suggests that such rivalry is neither structurally determined nor all pervasive. Extensive evidence of firm-level collaboration challenges the idea that climate remediation is necessarily impeded by a structurally-determined, geopolitically-driven “tragedy of the commons.”

Read the full paper here.