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 August 2005 Feature
Zhang Li Hong is vice director of the division of standardization at the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision.

Standards: The New Focus in China’s Exchange with the World

Since China opened its door to the outside world more than 20 years ago, its economy has become closely intertwined with the world’s. The rapid development of foreign trade, economic and technical exchange, and international cooperation has brought tremendous changes to China’s economy. China now plays a significant role in the world economy. In 2004, China’s total trade revenue exceeded 1.1 trillion U.S. dollars, making it the third-largest trading partner in the world, second only to the United States and Germany.

With China’s openness expanding from initially a very few areas to more and more, China has gone from at one time permitting only the introduction of low-level construction projects and foreign capital from abroad, to finally encouraging economic and technical exchange and cooperation with countries all over the world. During this process, China has come to pay more attention to technical exchange and cooperation.

With the continuous development of China’s market economy, standards, which are an important factor of a market economy, are playing an increasingly important role in China’s economic and social development. In 2002, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology put forward a request for the strategic pursuit of qualified personnel, patents and standards. In 2005, in its technical standards strategy, China stated that one of its goals is the internationalization of its own standards. Today in China, standards are valued by the government and society as a whole and will most likely be the next hot area in China’s exchange with the world.

With China’s openness to the outside world and entrance into the World Trade Organization, its domestic marketplace has become increasingly internationalized. This has led to more stringent quality demands from customers and users of the iron and steel, textile, petrochemical and chemical industries, which in turn has served as an impetus for these industries to seek to improve, on an industry-wide level, the quality of their standards. It is anticipated, therefore, that the use of ASTM product standards and test methods in China’s many industry sectors will extend in scope and increase in number. The prospects of using ASTM standards in China will be greatly broadened.

Chinese Industries Must Reach Out to Participate in the Development of International Standards

A number of problems exist in China’s standardization effort, including an excessively long standards development cycle, a relatively low number of existing standards, a poor rate of standards implementation, and a lack of adequate research in standardization efforts. Among these problems, the biggest one lies in the exchange of Chinese standards with other countries, which falls well behind China’s economic, trade, and personnel exchange with other countries. The biggest concern is how to make Chinese manufacturers, industries, research institutions, and government agencies reach out to the world to participate actively in the development of international standards.

Statistics show that China has made some progress in recent years in the adoption of international standards. Up until 2002, China’s rate of adopting international standards was 44.2 percent, with a total of 8,931 standards adopted. China’s participation in the development of international standards, however, has lagged far behind the adoption. By 2002, among the 20,206 international standards issued by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission, Chinese industry participated in the development of only about 20 standards. Among the more than 4,000 International Telecommunications Union standards developed, only 10 came from China. In spite of the fact that ASTM standards are widely used in many areas in China, only 120 of the over 30,000 ASTM members come from China. China’s lack of participation in international standards development is largely out of proportion to its status as a major participant in global trade and puts China at a disadvantage in the competition for international trade. This lack of international exchange has become a major barrier to China’s industrial and standardization development.

As a result of its lack of participation to date, China has a great deal to make up for in its participation in international standards development. Currently, while Chinese industries do technical work well, at the same time, they must make a point to reach out to the world to participate in the process of international standards development. Only by participating in international standards development will industries be able to obtain relevant, current information first-hand that will allow them to avoid unnecessary detours in their R&D efforts. Only by participating in international standards development will industries turn passivity into initiative and, by incorporating their own intellectual property into international standards and protecting their own interests, increase their international competitiveness.

It is important to note that when Chinese industry and standards professionals attempt to reach out to the world, they must make a point of strengthening their cooperation with professional standards developing organizations. Despite the government’s obvious encouragement of Chinese industries to participate in international standards development and the enthusiasm of a number of industries to do so, they lack experience at this point. They especially need to learn the rules of the game and understand the environment in which they will be operating before they can plunge into it.

Cooperation with Standards Developing Organizations

I had the good fortune to be invited to visit ASTM International in June and July 2004, as an intern, and was able to get to know this world-renowned standards developing organization first-hand. If China cooperates with SDOs such as ASTM International, Chinese standards developers will have great opportunities to learn.

Cooperation includes such benefits as the exchange of standards, the availability of ASTM staff or experts to give lectures or train in China, the possibility of holding some ASTM Committee Weeks in China, sending professional delegations from various Chinese industries and users to visit ASTM, and the opportunity to apply for ASTM membership in order to participate in the entire process of developing ASTM standards. This will allow Chinese professionals to witness ASTM’s advanced technology and management skills first hand and to have China’s interests and concerns considered and incorporated in ASTM standards, will help improve the quality of China’s standards, and will promote the entry of Chinese products into the international market. Only substantive understanding of the standardization process can result in substantive participation.

ASTM’S Dedication to the Internationalization of Standards

With its rapid economic development, China has become the largest developing country with the largest market in the world. As is the case in multinational corporations, standards developing organizations should not take lightly China’s important role and influence in the |development of international standards. SDOs with foresight are making positive efforts to promote exchange and cooperation with China and have, in fact, made some positive progress.

In Beijing in August 2004, ASTM International and the Standardization Administration of China signed a memorandum of understanding that pledges the organizations to cooperate in the development of their respective standards, to promote China’s more extensive participation in the development of ASTM standards, to give greater weight to the views provided by Chinese professionals in the standards development process, and to make ASTM standards conform more to the needs of Chinese industries and be more applicable in the Chinese context. In addition, to facilitate the participation of Chinese enterprises in the development of ASTM standards, ASTM signed cooperation agreements as early as the second half of 2003 with two important Chinese standardization organizations — the China National Institute of Standardization and Shanghai Institute of Standardization. Through these agreements, CNIS and SIS will serve as bridges between ASTM and China through which Chinese enterprises and professionals can become members of one or more of ASTM’s 137 technical committees and participate in the development of ASTM standards. As a result of these agreements, staff members from SAC, CNIS, and SIS have been or will be sent, as interns, to ASTM Headquarters to learn in depth how ASTM International operates and to promote better communication between ASTM and Chinese standards developers.

We believe that ASTM International will make large strides in its dedication to the internationalization of its standards. The series of agreements signed between ASTM and SAC, CNIS, and SIS will promote the more extensive use of ASTM standards in China. ASTM is looking forward to the active participation of Chinese enterprises in its development of international standards. Chinese industries should, therefore, recognize and seize this good opportunity to actively participate in the development of international standards.

International Cooperation and Exchange: A Win-Win Outcome

Chinese government agencies at all levels should actively promote and take the lead in encouraging Chinese enterprises to appear in the world arena. At present, the Chinese government pays great attention to the importance of standardization, especially the participation in international standardization activities. Mrs. Zhang Yanhua, deputy director of SAC, said at the ASTM Open House for Asia Pacific Standards Leaders in September 2003, “China is transforming from a planned economy to a market-driven economy. It is a complicated process and the Chinese government is playing a positive role in promoting enterprises’ active participation in international standardization activities.” At a national conference on standardization held in March 2005, Mr. Li Zhonghai, SAC director said, “This year, SAC is planning to encourage China’s preponderant industries and enterprises to essentially participate in the development of international standards; speed up the process of bringing Chinese standards closer to the level of international standards, increase the international competitiveness of Chinese enterprises, products, and industries; and step up exchange and cooperation with foreign countries in the area of standardization.” In addition, the technical standards strategies and corresponding policies actively pursued by the Chinese government will also play a role in promoting the internationalization of standards.

Chinese enterprises should actively participate in the activities of international standards developing organizations. Chinese enterprises must take part in the development of international standards. Active participation will increase their competitive edge and help their voices to be heard more in the international arena. The implication of the term “made in China” should by no means be restricted to the sense of the product having been “manufactured in China,” but should include, first and foremost, the idea that the product’s standard was “manufactured” through participation in the development of global standards, or “manufactured” by being independently developed in China.

Chinese industries are now undergoing a revolution in standardization. After the designation of TD-SCDMA (time division synchronous code division multiple access), the homegrown third-generation wireless telecommunications standard, as an official Chinese standard, the Chinese Ministry of Information Industry and other related agencies took the lead in the development of Chinese standards for Linux, digital cameras, flash memory connection, IP protocol version 6, AVS (digital audio and video coding and decoding technology), RFID (radio frequency identification), and EVD (enhanced versatile disc, a high-density, high- definition, high-volume form of visual laser disk technology).

Many major Chinese industries, especially manufacturers, are actively participating in the development of international standards. Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., for instance, has participated in about 40 international standardization organizations and submitted over 120 proposals for international standards in 2004 alone. ZTE Corporation, China’s largest listed telecommunications manufacturer and wireless solutions provider, actively joined over 30 international standardization organizations and submitted over 100 proposals for international standards in 2003.

Medium-sized and small enterprises seem to be less eager to participate in international standards development, but they, too, should join standardization organizations, and participate in the process. Though they may not be ready to submit a proposal yet at these meetings, they will, at least, be able to discover the current trends in standards development, as well as the general direction of technological development, which can serve as guidance for their R&D efforts and ensure that they do not go in the wrong direction. Chinese medium and small companies may now appear to be working at the low end of technology, but, through exchange, they can keep themselves informed and eventually catch up.


International standardization organizations are eager to establish exchange and cooperation with China. The major aim of such exchange and cooperation does not lie only in economic benefit, technical exchange (including the exchange of standards), and market share. Rather, international standards are a powerful means of facilitating the exchange of science and technology and promoting the progress of humankind; they can play a positive role in reducing the gap between developed and developing nations and in better balancing the economic development between them.

In September 2003, Mark Hurwitz, chairman and CEO of the American National Standards Institute, stated at the Open House for Asia Pacific Standards Leaders that “assistance to developing countries is critical,” and that donor countries’ plans should provide aid to these nations in standards development. In August 2004, Jim Thomas, president of ASTM International, commented at the China-U.S. Standards Meeting in Beijing about how China can better participate in international standards activities based in the United States. In November 2004, Oliver Smoot, then-chairman of ISO, gave a speech while visiting Beijing to push for China’s presence and participation in international standards development. He pointed out that one of the seven objectives of ISO’s Strategic Plan for 2005 through 2010 is, “to increase participation of all parties concerned in the development and implementation of standards, whether they are developed or developing countries. There is a need for China, and a greater need for ISO.”

If, in the era of industrial economy, capital was the dominant factor for success, then in our era of intellectual economy, standards are the critical factor for success. Chinese standards have an important bearing on the future of China. China’s industries are still fragile and have a long way yet ahead toward the internationalization of standards. Chinese enterprises should first learn to walk as a little child does, then grow up gradually. Though it is clumsy to toddle like a little child, that is the only way for our enterprises to grow, for Chinese voices to resound more and more in the international arena, for Chinese standards to play a more important role in the international arena, and to change a “made in China” label into a “made in compliance with Chinese standards” label. //

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