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The Use of ASTM Standards in China

Survey Results Show Progress

by James Chan

Nearly two decades ago, ASTM launched an effort to create and maintain a presence in China. Since 1984, as China has emerged as one of the world’s great manufacturing centers, ASTM has been working to make its standards useful, familiar, and necessary to the Chinese standards community, and to the government agencies and businesses for which they work.

Our continuing efforts — including direct mail campaigns, participation in book fairs, hosting Chinese delegations in the United States, giving seminars in China, and the annual publication of a Chinese-language edition of Standardization News — have taken us a long way toward achieving this goal.

Chinese users of ASTM standards tell us that these documents are up-to-date, advanced international standards. Through telephone and e-mail communications, and in meetings with ASTM staff and members in the United States and China, they tell us that ASTM standards help Chinese factories increase product quality, attract foreign investment and integrate more fully with the Western economy.

While we know that there are still logistical problems to resolve and bureaucratic hurdles to overcome in helping Chinese standards professionals use and adopt more ASTM standards, our latest biannual survey shows that the future prospects of achieving our goals are good.

In 2002, ASTM mailed a questionnaire to 5,700 Chinese standards professionals and organizations including 4,700 libraries, research institutes and industrial enterprises and 1,000 readers of the Chinese-language edition of Standardization News (Biao Zhun Hua Xin Wen), a magazine jointly published by ASTM and the China Association of Standardization (CAS) in Beijing.

Following are some highlights of what we learned.

The Use of ASTM Standards in China

Next to the Chinese National Standards (called Guo Biao, or GB) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards, ASTM standards are the most commonly used international standards in China. Chinese standards professionals use more ASTM standards than DIN (German), JIS (Japanese) or BS (British) standards. Survey respondents told us that the Chinese government routinely uses ASTM standards as basic references in setting GB standards. In this regard, the influence of ASTM standards in China is deep and fundamental.

The reasons for this widespread use are many. In order of importance, survey respondents said ASTM standards are used:

• As basic references in setting Chinese GB standards;
• To test and develop new products;
• To satisfy import and export requirements;
• To satisfy customer requirements;
• To inspect and evaluate product quality and specifications;
• To obtain product certification; and
• To teach and train personnel.

Obtaining ASTM Standards and Membership in China

Two out of three people said that it is easy for them to obtain ASTM standards. One of ASTM’s goals is to improve this number so that everyone in China who needs an ASTM standard is able to obtain it.

The single largest source of ASTM standards in China is the Information Research Institute of the China Bureau of Technical Supervision in Beijing; the second largest source is the Shanghai Institute of Standardization. Various provincial or city standards libraries and public libraries make up the third largest source of ASTM standards.

Over 4.2 million people in China use the Internet daily to communicate with one another and with their contacts outside of China. About 84 percent of survey respondents said that they have access to the Internet and 48 percent said that they had visited ASTM’s Web site in the recent past. This is not only advantageous for promoting the purchase of ASTM standards, but for the use of ASTM’s many Internet-based tools for participation in the standards development process, which leads to the subject of membership in ASTM.

More than half of survey respondents (56 percent) want to become ASTM members. While ASTM has in place Internet-based mechanisms for “remote” participation in our process, people in China cannot, for now, easily remit funds in foreign currency or pay by credit cards. Nor can they freely import Western publications. They must go through government-designated importers and distributors. These are examples of the logistical problems and hurdles we need to overcome to meet this obvious desire on the part of Chinese technical and standardization professionals to participate in or stay informed of ASTM’s process.


Other interesting facts gleaned from the survey include:

• About 64 percent of respondents said that they travel outside of China to conduct business.
• More than half of respondents (62
percent) prefer to see ASTM training courses given in China.
• A surprising majority — 85 percent — said that they can read and understand written English with ease. Increasingly more Chinese people, especially younger, college-trained people, learn to read and understand English. But composing and speaking English remains difficult for most people due to a lack of daily practice.

Survey respondents made many intriguing suggestions, including:

• Publish ASTM standards in Chinese.
• Provide relevant and timely information about ASTM in China.
• Mail ASTM publications catalogs and brochures directly to individual users, not just to importers and distributors.
• Work more effectively with distributors who can help individuals pay for and import ASTM standards.
• Set up service centers in China.
• Publicize, in China, the activities of ASTM’s committees.
• Organize a world standardization conference in China.
• Publish a manual on ASTM’s standards development process so that China may adopt similar methods.
• Give technical seminars in China.
• Show how makers of new products in the west adopt and use ASTM standards.

Using this information, ASTM is hard at work to meet the needs of our colleagues in the People’s Republic of China. Although collegial bonds are strong due to cooperative activities already undertaken, they can be made even stronger by conscious and interactive efforts to work with the existing structures in ASTM and the Chinese community. //

Copyright 2003, ASTM

James Chan, Ph.D., consults with ASTM on China. He is president of Asia Marketing and Management, a Philadelphia-based consultancy that helps companies do business in Asia. He is the author of Spare Room Tycoon, a book on successful self-employment that has been translated into Chinese.