News from the BSA: Underneath the Bluster, China Feels Insecure

Perspective: What China thinks about China,” by Robert Holleyman, CNET, October 5, 2006

Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of the Business Software Alliance, appears to be trying to give his Global IPR Stormtroopers a kinder, gentler face by doing a survey about how Chinese people feel about China. The survey chose to go deep with a group of influential respondents rather than a wide survey of the nation’s sentiment (a wise approach – YOU try doing a statistically significant sampling of China’s heterogeneous population.)

I give Holleyman an “A” for effort – I know what surveys like this cost (anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per respondent, if done well) and it could not have been easy for Holleyman to talk his members out of that kind of wampum when all they want the BSA to do is work for stronger IPR regulation and vigorous rights enforcement.

But based on what the BSA is telling us, I have to give him a “B-” for insight and a “D” for actionable intelligence.

What did the BSA find?

• Chinese elites feel that the rest of the world misunderstands China. This is only a story to people who do not deal with China regularly, and I think most of us would fess up to being limited in our understanding of the Middle Kingdom – even those of us who live and work here. What would have been a far more interesting issue to probe is the extent to which these elites understand (or misunderstand) the rest of the world.

• China sees India as more of a competitor than the U.S. This needs to be probed – do they feel this way because they see the U.S. and Japan as being so far out ahead – or because they see the U.S. and Japan as declining in their global economic and political power? Or because they have a different perception of competition for inputs and markets?

• Chinese have a “sober appreciation” of the challenges that face them. That’s good. The bigger question is “what are they doing about those challenges, and what do they see are the barriers keeping them from addressing them?”

All interesting, none of it earth-shattering, and none of it likely to get the BSA pegged as a thought leader.

Now, I haven’t seen the report, only Holleyman’s op-ed on CNET. I checked the BSA website, and apparently the report is not public. That’s a shame, because I have to believe there is more to all of this than what the BSA has chosen to tell us. But I also suspect the juicy bits are being held back for the members. I also suspect that one of the real motivations for this survey was to have a pretext to engage opinion leaders in China on a topic that was less confrontational than the BSA’s normal desk-banging focus on getting China to enforce its IPR laws.

All pretty disappointing. Whatever BSA garnered for its members in this process, it has done little to advance the public debate about China’s rise and shed light on issues critical to those of us doing business here.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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