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Who’s Behind China’s High-Technology “Revolution”? Evan A. Feigenbaum How Bomb Makers Remade Beijing’s Priorities, Policies, and Institutions For seven years after the Tiananmen Square tragedy of 1989, virtually all signiªcant issues in U.S.China relations became subordinate to concern about human rights and China’s suppression of political dissent. Yet in the three years since China’s 1996 missile exercise in the Taiwan Strait, high-technology issues have come increasingly to replace human rights at the center of the contentious and often politicized discussion that characterizes current debate about U.S.-China policy. Recent allegations concerning satellite exports and nuclear espionage, in particular, demonstrate the centrality of high technology to the debate about China’s place in the world. This makes it especially important to explore links that may bind China’s national technology and industrial policies to its approach to security and development. How has the Chinese understanding of this linkage changed as the past priority of militarized growth has given way to the rapid expansion of a commercial economy since the late 1970s?1 Who is responsible for making important technology decisions in China? How have Chinese technology leaders thought about the relationship between technology and national power during the past twenty years? Has political change affected this worldview? Finally, how has renewed contact with international technical circles since the 1970s affected the Chinese approach to national high-tech strategy and investment? International Security, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Summer 1999), pp. 95–126© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Evan A. Feigenbaum is a Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of Change in Taiwan and Potential Adversity in the Strait (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1995). This article is based, in large part, on extensive discussions conducted between 1993 and 1999 with specialists in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, China’s military industrial system, the Chinese defense science and engineering complex, and some civilian technicians. For comments on earlier versions of this material, I am grateful to David Bachman, Wendy Frieman, John Holdren, David Holloway, Charles Wayne Hooper, Nicholas Lardy, John Wilson Lewis, Michael May, Barry Naughton, Michel Oksenberg, William Perry, Condoleezza Rice, Robert Ross, Ezra Vogel, Xue Litai, and four anonymous reviewers for International Security. 1. On the past priority of military goals, as well as the impact of military elites, institutions, and ideas on China’s Mao-era (1949–76) political economy, see Evan A. Feigenbaum, “Soldiers, Weapons , and Chinese Development Strategy: The Mao-Era Military in China’s Economic and Institutional Debate,” China Quarterly, No. 158 (June 1999). 95 This article surveys one of the most crucial aspects of China’s recent hightech transition—the formulation of national investment priorities in areas that the central government and its technical advisers have deemed to be of strategic importance to China’s national security and economic competitiveness. Such efforts by no means represent the only aspect of China’s recent high-tech policy. Indeed, strategic technology programs are just one of ªve main pillars that together support China’s twenty-ªrst-century technology agenda.2 But strategic technology efforts are crucial for four reasons. First, these programs represent perhaps the most explicit connection between national security and economic development issues in China’s policymaking process. In addition, they constitute a critical link between purely domestic economic policy agendas and the international strategic concerns so central to Chinese decisionmakers. Second, for much of the period since 1987, strategic technology programming has comprised the largest source of direct central government ªnance for research and development (R&D) in priority sectors such as space, lasers, and supercomputing. This brand of public investment is not channeled through the intermediary agency of ministry and state corporation budgets, or via the major government banks. It is organized around its own administrative system with a unique set of procedures. National programming is caught up with a wide-ranging debate about the proper role of publicly targeted, as opposed to risk and equity, ªnance in shaping national competitiveness. Third, strategic programming focuses primarily on applied...


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