India Can Take Lessons From China’s Technical Standardisation Strategy
India’s policies towards standardisation work still remain inherently fixated on products and their quality.
China recently released the National Standardisation Development (NSD) Outline, which serves as the first major document in the public domain on the standardisation strategy of the state in the coming years. This serves as a potential road map for the Chinese government and provides a glimpse into its intentions of utilising technical standards as an economic and strategic tool to further advance its interests.
A technical standard serves as a means for governance in the realm of a wide range of technologies. With several emerging fields such as AI, blockchain, and 5G, there is a necessity to establish a common direction of functioning for all states and private companies undertaking research and development in the specific fields of technology. While this remains the foremost idea behind the setting up of technical standards, recent developments have broadened the scope of their necessity.
The standardisation strategy envisioned by the Chinese government can also serve as a model for India to increase its presence in the international technical standards domain. China’s pursuit offers India an opportunity to emulate its neighbour in simultaneously strengthening its domestic standardisation schemes while improving its leverage in international standards developing organisations. The NSD outline document provides India with a few pointers on the path it can take to influence technical standards-setting at the international level.
Recognising New Areas of Technology
China’s ambition to become a leading power in the technical standards domain stems from reforming its national standards landscape. India’s policies towards standardisation work still remain inherently fixated on products and their quality, rather than the applications of emerging technologies. With China looking to efficiently manage its mandatory national technical standards programme along with optimising the other recommended national standards, India can look towards its neighbour to understand and implement better national-level standardisation processes. A new and improved evaluation mechanism for the review and approval of national technical standards is a necessary step towards improving the quality of technical standards in the country.
The recognition of new areas of technology and industries that can provide additional economic and geopolitical leverage to states is one of the primary steps in remaking such a strategy.
Along with this, strengthening the law enforcement and supervision mechanism for technical standards in critical technologies can ensure better implementation of national standardisation practices to compete at the international level.
Creating a more open and transparent development process for setting technical standards will enhance India’s position at international standard development organisations.
Industry Meets Collective Business Models
The reforms undertaken in China during the 2017-18 period related to technical standardisation processes in the country introduced the transition to collaborative efforts between the state and private sector in developing technical standards. The role of the industry was recognised in the technical standards-setting process, which would, in turn, help in boosting technological innovation. Though state control still remains integral to the Chinese standardisation system, the acknowledgement of the private sector’s role was a major step forward. India, with its fledgling private sector, must utilise the sector’s growing comparative advantage in the technical standards domain. This can enhance India’s competitiveness and improve its chances of proposing an international standard.
With the introduction of association and enterprise standards through the 2018 law, China saw that there was a massive boom in the number of standards for general products and services being filed. India, when moving towards a public-private partnership (PPP) model, needs to ensure better integration between the state and private sector entities in the process of technical standards development.
An improvement of the filing system by industries and private sector entities can help in better evaluation and optimisation of technical standards. This can also help in the overall reduction of excessive technical standards, which, in turn, promotes the technical standards of the highest quality to the national and international stage.
India Must Treat It as a Priority
Along with bringing the private sector into the technical standards fold, there is also the possibility of using collective business organisations for creating a robust technical standards ecosystem in the country. Implementing training programs by collective business groups to help guide businesses to carry out standardisation work, especially focusing on new technologies and industries.
Policies for strengthening the system of collective standards must be a priority in India. Encouraging collective businesses to develop group technical standards through collaborative efforts and participate in international activities can help the country’s growth in the technical standards domain.
Growing and Maintaining an International Presence
One of the main areas that China’s standardisation program seeks to address is to increase the state’s engagement at international forums dealing with technical standards. A reason for the historical domination of the Western states in the domain stemmed from the fact that these Western multinational companies, along with their representatives, maintained a stranglehold over leadership positions in the different technical committees and working groups responsible for the finalisation of the standard-setting process.
The last few years have seen a considerable increase in the number of Chinese officials rising to leadership positions at major international standards organisations. The project seeks to ensure an uptick in China’s presence at several critical technical committees responsible for setting standards in strategic technologies. India should look to cultivate the idea behind increasing its representation at these international standards organisations. Despite having a major share in the global technology market, India’s sluggish growth in innovation and nonchalant attitude towards technical standards has prevented it from maintaining a strong presence in international circles. Taking a leaf out of China’s project can help the country develop diplomatic clout.
India Can Build Diplomatic Alliances, Unlike China
Another approach that China has followed to increase its influence in the global technical standards domain is the use of its multi-bilateral relations with different countries through foreign policy projects like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China has effectively used technology and infrastructure projects to export its standards to allies and other states participating in BRI projects. India, on the other hand, needs to embrace technology as a potential foreign policy tool.
Unlike the Chinese, India has an opportunity to develop diplomatic alliances to build technical standards. Promotion of technical standards interconnection remains essential in growing the state’s presence in the domain.
India, along with like-minded countries, can also ensure the sharing of standards in critical and strategic technologies. This can provide the bloc considerable leverage, both diplomatically and in terms of market share, at international organisations.
(The author is a research analyst at the Takshashila Institution. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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