WASHINGTON -- China's focus on science and technology is relentless, and it's occurring at all levels of its society. Its labor pool is becoming increasingly sophisticated, its leadership is focused on innovation, and the country is adopting policies designed to pressure U.S. firms to transfer their technology.
The trend is causing increasing worry in Washington, but there are five reasons why China may yet succeed in its goal to achieve world dominance in technology.
1. China's leadership understands engineering
In China, eight of the nine members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, including the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, have engineering degrees; one has a degree in geology.
Of the 15 U.S. cabinet members, six have law degrees. Only one cabinet member has a hard-science degree -- Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997, has a doctorate in physics. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have law degrees.
2. China's leadership wants to out-innovate the U.S.
China's political leadership has made technological innovation a leading goal in everything from supercomputers to nanotech. One highlight of this is China's investment in clean energy technologies.
In March, the Pew Charitable Trusts reported that China led the U.S. in clean energy investments. Last year, the country invested $34.6 billion in clean energy, nearly double the U.S. total of $16.8 billion, Pew said.
"It's very sad that Americans spend more on potato chips than we do on investment in clean energy R&D," said John Doerr, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer, at a forum in June with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. He warned of a threat to U.S. future if the country doesn't increase its contribution to clean energy research.
3. China's science and technical talent pool is vast
The technical labor pool in China is so large that Shanghai-based offshore outsourcing company Bleum Inc. can use an IQ test to screen applicants, with a cutoff score for new computer science graduates in China of 140. Less than 1% of the population has a score that high.
Bleum has started hiring a U.S. workforce but sets an IQ score of 125 as a screening threshold because of the smaller labor pool. The company employs 1,000 people in China.
One data point to note: In 2005, the U.S. awarded 137,500 engineering degrees, while China awarded 351,500, according to a workforce study last year.
4. The U.S. is failing at science and math education
A stark assessment of the U.S. failure in science and math education was made by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) at a Senate hearing in May, when she compared the performance of students in Texas to those in China.
"In my home state of Texas, only 41% of the high school graduates are ready for college-level math (algebra), and only 24% are ready for college-level science (biology)," said Hutchinson.