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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is China Reverse Engineering America’s Future?

Recent news about China made me recall a comment made by my 13-year old niece not long ago: “All those Chinese will come here and steal our jobs.”

For the moment, leave aside a child’s understandable ignorance (and the likely racism of the teachers who fed her such nonsense).

If odds makers tried to determine today’s leader in tomorrow’s economic race between China and the U.S., they might give China the nod.

Consider three, recently reported facts:
China announced that it will extend universal health care to its entire population in 2011.

China will release new fuel efficiency standards requiring a minimum of 42.2 miles per gallon (for every car, not a fleet average) by 2015, far beyond what has been proposed in the U.S. and even farther beyond what any current US-made car can achieve.

In China, the number of students earning first university degrees in engineering far exceeds U.S. levels.
Think graduation statistics in China are bogus? Consider a fourth fact:
China’s Tsinghua and Peking Universities are now the top feeder schools for American PhD programs, with the largest shares in the natural sciences and engineering.
Back to my niece’s comment. Not only is it wrong on the facts today, it is wrong about tomorrow. According to a 2008 survey, only 10% of Chinese students in the U.S. want to stay here permanently. Barely half (54%) even want to work briefly in the U.S. after graduation. They are taking their degrees back to China, where they see brighter, long-term economic prospects. Can anyone say “Back to the Future?” Or reverse engineering?

Not convinced where the trend line is headed? It is not only American-educated Chinese students returning to China. The number of young Americans seeking (and finding) work in China is rapidly rising. Yes it is partly a reflection of today’s recession in the U.S. It also says something about tomorrow’s future in China.

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