China's technical standardization power

China's technical standardization power

    We are hardly aware of the existence of technical standards; but technical standards are omnipresent product specifications. USB is a standard for cables, connectors and protocols that enables charging and the exchange of data on a wide range of devices regardless of manufacturer. The A4 paper format is standardized. Similarly, Wi-Fi is a family of radio technologies built upon technical standards that allow wireless local area networking of a wide range of technological equipment. A final example is the standardization of screws with far-reaching implications ranging from the production of screwdrivers to furniture. Without technical standards, we would not be able to call mobile phones of a different manufacturer than our own. More generally, globalization would be same because technical standards make sure we can use products and technology across national borders as well as across suppliers.

    At first glance, technical standardization appears to be a non-political, consensual search for the technically most appropriate solution. Companies send technicians to meetings searching for the optimal technical solutions. However, the emerging political confict over technology challenges the commercial logic of liberal globalization. In this context, technical standardization is turning into a crucial arena for commercial, normative and political conflict. The capacity to influence standard-setting is a tool of power in itself, though largely overlooked.

    This project aims to understand the changing role of technical standardization by tracing China’s increasing involvement in international standardization and how the West reacts. Empirically, I analyze three layers of China’s standardization policy, Western responses and implications for Europe.

    • China’s domestic standardization system is undergoing reform. I trace this transformation as it unfolds, describe the underlying rationale, and contrast China's state-permeated approach with Europe's private-driven public private partnership.

    • Recently, China has prioritized its engagement in the established international standardization organizations such as ISO, IEC, 3GPP, and ITU. The project maps Chinese activities and its growing influence in these institutions.

    • As part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China aims to internationalize its domestic technical standards. I analyze the general standardization policy of the BRI and exemplarily investigate the role of technical standards in selected BRI projects.

    The project mainly focuses on technical standardization in strategic emerging technologies.

    The goal of the project is not only to better understand China’s standardization policy but to carve out the political importance of standardization. I am particularly interested to understand the impact of the politicization of technical standardization.

    As a result of this project, I was appointed a member of the European Standardization Organization's Task Force China and an observing member of the European Commission's High-Level European Forum on Standardization as well as its Sherpa on digital standardization.

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