The Voices Behind Standards – Appended

Back in the Hutong
Recovering from 5 Days in Tokyo
0913 hrs.
Appended a day later
0855 hrs.

Scott Kennedy at the National Bureau of Asian Research, a U.S. think-tank, has produced a compelling paper that underscores the importance of business coalitions in standards battles in China.

Scott uses different wording, but his point echoes one that Susan Tomsett and I have been making for a very long time – what moves regulators, policy-makers, administrators, and GONGOs in China is a chorus of voices of domestic entities all pushing in one direction, with foreign voices faint if present at all.

You can download his paper (a pdf) here.

Scott dropped me a note and pointed out (correctly) that his paper does not suggest that foreign firms have little input in the process, but that they are more successful when Chinese speak out on the same issue.

This is absolutely the case, and the record bears growing testament to support Scott’s point.

Where Scott and I perhaps diverge in our thinking is, I believe, a matter of focus. Looking at what has been successful to this point, Scott is spot-on: it has been a foreign entity taking a stand that is supported by local voices that has historically won the day. When I was working with Qualcomm in the late 1990s, that is essentially the tactic we used to help gain final approval for CDMA.

Looking ahead to what will be required in future efforts to move the regulatory needle in China, I frankly see the role of foreigners speaking for themselves as being in steep decline. The broader trend will be for local coalitions to assume a greater and greater role in the standards debate (and in most debates around IT policy) and for foreigners to gradually step behind the screen.

When you look at the policy direction toward independent innovation, away from foreign investment, and a process infused with a growing discomfort with foreign participation in regulatory issues, you can understand why local voices will become even more important in the process than foreign voices. Indeed, foreigners are probably best advised to step behind the screen and counsel the locals in the process, stepping forward to provide an independent voice only on when appropriate.

Bottom Line
Building coalitions of influential local entities is essential in the standards process – Scott Kennedy has documented that amply. Going forward, those local entities are going to become the primary drivers of policy, with foreigners playing an increasingly subordinate, supporting role – David Wolf contends this.



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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