Wednesday 30 December 2009

A straw in the wind reveals the changing direction of power

The public are gradually coming to realise that, within our countries, our institutions and businesses are not run fairly and for the general benefit of voters and investors.

Now, as the balance of economic power is shifting towards the East, we may discover that the rule of international law does not constrain the strongest. A straw in the wind is this story, about a small Chinese company that has defied a Goldman Sachs subsidiary, refusing to pay $80 million relating to derivatives contracts. The significant element is the reported preparedness of the Chinese government to support national businesses against foreign banks in the law courts.

Much more worrying, in my view, are the implications of this pugnacious stance if it is applied to copyrights and patents. Since the West cannot compete with the low labour costs of the developing world, it is placing its hope in its long-accumulated expertise and technology. Should mighty foreign nations begin to disregard intellectual property rights, we could find ourselves in a very difficult position. I raised this issue in 1997 - here, here and here. Please also see my review of James Kynge's "China Shakes the World", where Kynge is given the run-around when he tries to enquire into copyright theft in China.

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