A couple of things recently caught my eye about China. One was the introduction of wheel-less high-speed trains that operate via magnetic levitation (maglev). The other was China’s 3G mobile phone standard, which it hopes will gain acceptance in countries outside China. Apart from the fact that both these events have considerable relevance to the electronics industry, they also have something to say about how we all trade with China and vice versa.
Everyone knows that China’s economy, its industry, and its export business are booming. But in the long term, international trade must always be a two-way street or a two-way track when it comes to maglev trains.
China already has a maglev train operating between Shanghai and the city’s international airport. Developed by the Transrapid consortium, it’s a wonderful technical achievement capable of speeds up to 400km/hr (240mph). None of this is really surprising, considering the consortium behind Transrapid includes Germany’s Siemens and ThyssenKrupp. The two organizations have spent the last 30 years developing maglev technology.
What is very surprising, though, is that China may opt for its own version of maglev technology (developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group) for a new 3000-mile rail network. Plans are for the network to be completed prior to the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.
This comes as a shock for several reasons. Firstly, Siemens and ThyssenKrupp are renowned as world leaders on maglev technology, and secondly, their systems are already tried and tested. It’s also important for China to recognise that long-term financial well-being relies on trade with the rest of the world being a two-way track. Just as it would like its 3G communications standard to be adopted in a variety of countries, so too it has to realise that it must keep an open door for external technologies to find their way onto the Chinese market. In the long term, China must resist the temptation of developing a protectionist attitude toward its own technical innovations.