THE BLOG
06/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

China Gains Tech Trophy; Wake-up Call to the West

China now leads the U.S. for technological leadership. I'm not the only one saying this is a leading edge trend that needs attention from our top policy makers and businesses. Now, a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology affirms it.

Ranking 33 nations on technology competitiveness, infrastructure, socioeconomic factors and productivity, the researchers conclude that China has moved from "in the weeds" to world technological leadership over the past 15 years. Once it was Japan that threatened to be the major rival to the U.S. Now that trophy goes to China and its rapid climb from a low-cost producer to a high-tech inventive nation. This trend has bubbled to the surface by China's emphasis on training of scientists and engineers and focus on basic research and development.

Is this a wake-up call for the West? You bet. Technology forecaster and Stanford University teacher Paul Saffo says that Silicon Valley is "aging and slightly out of shape." Venture capitalist Kevin Fong compares China's entrepreneurial spirit to what was the Valley was like "pre-2000."

Certainly, it can't be ignored that bright, young Chinese talent, who were largely educated and trained in the U.S., have returned home to follow through on Deng Xiao Peng's famous quote, "To get rich is glorious." At the same time, in the post 9/11 era, the U.S. has put up immigration barriers, blocking the very people who helped to create our tech titans from working in the country.

Bill Tai, a venture investor in both China and the U.S., has chased more than one entrepreneurial dream. His latest discovery is a Chinese inventor of an advanced web browser called Maxthon, which already has 150 million downloads and counting. Created by a geeky software developer in Beijing named Jeff Chen, Maxthon is "built on passion," says Tai.

While entrepreneurs in the West take time out on weekends to go biking, surfing, camping or whatever, their Chinese counterparts are glued to their PCs writing code for new breakthroughs. It's not a hobby for most, but Chen says he can't help but do it. His own dream is to make people's surfing live (online) better and better all the time. See this recent interview I recently conducted with Chen at his Beijing startup:

As China rises, Silicon Valley is resting on its great heritage as the world's innovative hub. Saffo says it best, "Silicon Valley is built on the rubbish of economic failures. Silicon Valley has wipe-outs and creates space for others to come in and build the next generation of companies."

China's own entrepreneurial development is still too young to share this history. But with most experts predicting that the next Steve Jobs will come from China, it won't be long before the country has its own chapters of both tech success and failures -- all breeding more innovations.