Standardized Confusion? The Political Logic of China's Technology Standards Policy

35 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2011

See all articles by Dan Breznitz

Dan Breznitz

Georgia Institute of Technology

Michael Murphree

University of South Carolina

Date Written: February 1, 2011


Studying technology standards in emerging economies provides a unique opportunity to examine the comparative political economy of science, technology, and innovation, as well as to analyze how economic institutions from mature capitalist countries fare when planted in different institutional settings. Of the emerging economies, the largest and arguably most important for the international economy is China. Looking from the national systemic level we find a puzzle in explaining the Chinese policy: Why do domestic standards continue to proliferate and be led and supported by government even when there is evidence that standards policies are counterproductive in terms of fostering innovation, their political and economic raison d'etre? We argue that this is the outcome of a two steps self-reinforcing sequence dynamic. In the first stage the state initiates standards development in the hope of fostering technological independence by offering status and economic incentives. As standard development starts, however, an unintended consequence is that more and more organizations, fearing a loss of competitive advantage, begin competing standard development efforts, creating an innovation arms race and explosive growth in the number of standards. This proliferation is counterproductive, leading to more uncertainty and less innovation. Nonetheless, since this dynamic has been creating vested interests, they ensure the continuation of the current policy.

Keywords: Technology Standards, China, Innovation, Public Policy

Suggested Citation

Breznitz, Dan and Murphree, Michael, Standardized Confusion? The Political Logic of China's Technology Standards Policy (February 1, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Dan Breznitz (Contact Author)

Georgia Institute of Technology ( email )

Atlanta, GA 30332
United States

Michael Murphree

University of South Carolina ( email )

United States

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