The Political Economy of Standards Coalitions: Explaining China’s Involvement in High-Tech Standards Wars
This essay seeks to explain China’s inability to successfully adopt and commercialize new technology standards by contrasting two standards development cases: wireless local area networks and home networking.
Technology standards are often the result of conflict between competing
industry coalitions, which derive their strength from both political and
economic sources. Several of the coalitions supporting unique Chinese
standards, most notably for wireless local area networks (LAN), have
been narrow and weak relative to the coalitions formed by their foreign
competitors. Other less publicized efforts, such as those in home networking,
have attracted a broader base of support and as a result show genuine
- As long as the industry coalitions supporting Chinese efforts to set unique
technical standards in information technology are narrow, the opposition
both of important segments of Chinese industry and of foreign companies
and their governments will cause such efforts to fail.
- Despite high visibility, China’s bid to promote WAPI over Wi-Fi as the
international wireless local area network standard is not representative of
all Chinese standards efforts. Much of Chinese industry and government
increasingly recognize the need to be more transparent and receptive to
foreign input during the standards process. In addition, Chinese firms
want to contribute constructively to international initiatives as well.
- In order to foster Chinese integration into the global standards
community, Western industries and governments should avoid highly
politicized conflicts over standards and instead promote transnational
business partnerships as well as technical and legal training. This approach
would avoid unnecessary trans-Pacific tensions and increase business
opportunities for Western businesses.