Toward Technology-Sensitive Catching-Up Policies: Insights from Renewable Energy in China
Journal article, 2017
The voluminous literature on industrial catching-up in Southeast Asian countries has regularly argued that successful catching-up largely depended on a committed state, which orchestrated industry development with a relatively uniform set of policies, including R&D support, subsidies, trade restrictions, and local content requirements. In contrast, recent contributions from the technology lifecycle literature have argued that policies should be tailored to differing technological characteristics in industries for mass-produced standardized goods, complex engineered products, and—as we argue—complex product systems (CoPS). In this paper, we extend this argument by introducing a set of separate policy mixes for each industry type, which appears most capable of providing the key resources required for catching-up: knowledge, market access, financial investment and technology legitimacy. This framework is used to analyze catching-up patterns in China’s wind, solar PV, and biomass power plant industries, drawing mainly on policy documents and 106 interviews with key industry actors.
We find that traditional top-down catching-up policies played a decisive role in the development of China’s wind industry, but were of limited importance in the early solar PV industry, and resulted only in a limited period of rapid growth in the biomass power plant industry. The relative progress achieved in these three industries is not related to top-down policy guidance alone, but also to private sector initiative, international interdependencies, and flexibility in adapting policy mixes to each industry’s technological characteristics. These results suggest that policy makers in newly industrializing countries (NICs) should avoid drafting generic sector plans, but should tailor plans to individual industries, and respond to changing policy support needs as technological capacities and global competitiveness develop.