Industrial policy is not just green technology or an electric car…

The New Yorker gives us a small look into policy in china other than the currency peg:

The Problem Statement

U.S. manufacturing’s competitive status is increasingly challenged by other economies. Established industrialized nations such as Japan, Germany, Korea and Taiwan are developing state-of-the-art technologies, which range across all areas of manufacturing from electronics to discrete parts. Products based on technologies that originated in the U.S. economy, such as semiconductors and robotics, are increasingly both developed and produced elsewhere.

Emerging economies, such as China, are acquiring manufacturing capability through modest R&D intensities, tax and other incentives for foreign direct investment, and intellectual property theft. This second group then competes through low-cost labor and the use of exchange rate manipulation along with tariff and non-tariff barriers.

However, emerging technology-based economies have the long-term goal of attaining world-class status as innovators, which means they are not content to operate at the low-technology, labor-intensive portion of manufacturing. China already is producing 30,000 patents annually and its patent application rate trails only the United States and Japan.1 Finally, event the huge U.S. lead in biopharmaceuticals is now under attack, as an increasing number of economies invest in supporting science and technology infrastructures and provide financial incentives for foreign direct investment in this rapidly expanding technology.

The combined long-term impact on the U.S. economy of investments by both established and newly industrialized economies has been the offshoring of substantial portions of U.S. manufacturing supply chains—first the labor-intensive industries but now the high-tech ones, as well.

In the years that followed, the government pumped billions of dollars into labs and universities and enterprises, on projects ranging from cloning to underwater robots. Then, in 2001, Chinese officials abruptly expanded one program in particular: energy technology. The reasons were clear. Once the largest oil exporter in East Asia, China was now adding more than two thousand cars a day and importing millions of barrels; its energy security hinged on a flotilla of tankers stretched across distant seas. Meanwhile, China was getting nearly eighty per cent of its electricity from coal, which was rendering the air in much of the country unbreathable and hastening climate changes that could undermine China’s future stability. Rising sea levels were on pace to create more refugees in China than in any other country, even Bangladesh.

In 2006, Chinese leaders redoubled their commitment to new energy technology; they boosted funding for research and set targets for installing wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric dams, and other renewable sources of energy that were higher than goals in the United States. China doubled its wind-power capacity that year, then doubled it again the next year, and the year after. The country had virtually no solar industry in 2003; five years later, it was manufacturing more solar cells than any other country, winning customers from foreign companies that had invented the technology in the first place. As President Hu Jintao, a political heir of Deng Xiaoping, put it in October of this year, China must “seize preëmptive opportunities in the new round of the global energy revolution.”

A China born again green can be hard to imagine, especially for people who live here. After four years in Beijing, I’ve learned how to gauge the pollution before I open the curtains; by dawn on the smoggiest days, the lungs ache.

David Sandalow, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy for Policy and International Affairs, has been to China five times in five months. He told me, “China’s investment in clean energy is extraordinary.” For America, he added, the implication is clear: “Unless the U.S. makes investments, we are not competitive in the clean-tech sector in the years and decades to come.”

China is already buying and installing the world’s most efficient transmission lines—“an area where China has actually moved ahead of the U.S.,” according to Deborah Seligsohn, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute. In the next decade, China plans to install wind-power equipment capable of generating nearly five times the power of the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest producer.

The prospect of a future powered by the sun and the wind is so appealing that it obscures a less charming fact: coal is going nowhere soon. Even the most optimistic forecasts agree that China and the United States, for the foreseeable future, will remain ravenous consumers. (China burns more coal than America, Europe, and Japan combined.) As Julio Friedmann, an energy expert at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, near San Francisco, told me, “The decisions that China and the U.S. make in the next five years in the coal sector will determine the future of this century.”

When Albert Lin, an American energy entrepreneur on the board of Future Fuels, a Texas-based power-plant developer, set out to find a gasifier for a pioneering new plant that is designed to spew less greenhouse gas, he figured that he would buy one from G.E. or Shell. Then his engineers tested the Xi’an version. It was “the absolute best we’ve seen,” Lin told me. (Lin said that the “secret sauce” in the Chinese design is a clever bit of engineering that recycles the heat created by the gasifier to convert yet more coal into gas.) His company licensed the Chinese design, marking one of the first instances of Chinese coal technology’s coming to America. “Fifteen or twenty years ago, anyone you asked would have said that Western technologies in coal gasification were superior to anything in China,” Lin said. “Now, I think, that claim is not true.”

The Obama Administration is busy repairing the energy legacy of its predecessor. The stimulus package passed in February put more than thirty-eight billion dollars into the Department of Energy for renewable-energy projects—including four hundred million for ARPA-E, the agency that Bush opposed. (It also allocated a billion dollars toward reviving FutureGen, though a final decision is pending.)