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Chinese Peril? What The Renault Industrial Spying Case Tells Us About Competition From China

Les Echos editor says China lulls the West into thinking it's always playing catch-up on technology. Reaction to the recent case of alleged Chinese espionage of Renault's electric car design is a case in point.

2010 Beijing Auto Show

PARIS - It is too early for fear, but not too late to begin to be wary. Western industrial chiefs already know that the technology transfers demanded by Chinese authorities in exchange for access to their market could backfire. As French car giant Renault is struggling with a troubling economic espionage case, these business executives now find that their Chinese rivals' methods – if the suspicion turns out to be true – may be even more aggressive than they feared.

Even before getting all the evidence, the first reaction could be to punish China and request sanctions against an immoral rival. The French government and Renault have yet to take this step. If the accusations turn out to be true, it will then be time to seek punishment and compensation.

But in the short term, there are other priorities. Companies are not as naïve as we think they are. They know that they have been actors in an economic war for a while now. The CIA helps out America Inc. and in France small businesses have learned to be wary of the big French companies, often accused of stealing their smaller counterparts' technologies. In business, anything goes and not just with Chinese rivals.

Therefore, the priority for CEOs is to be extremely careful, without resorting to permanent spying on their own employees. If bugs are developing, it's a sign that people are using them. When doing business, you must be wary of the Chinese as much as others.

But it is also high time we got rid of this naïve image of China as a commercial giant, yet technological dwarf. Beijing often tries to make others believe that its factories are just putting together high-tech components made in the US or Japan. The idea that China is the world's factory not its laboratory grows less true by the day. Chinese rockets can send men into space; Chinese high-speed trains are as fast as the French TGVs; their super calculators are faster then those from IBM or Bull. And in the auto industry, China is hoping to become a leader in electric engines to compensate for being behind in gas engines.

Money, manpower, education and a strategic leadership make China more of a giant with agile feet than feet of clay. Without even having to spy on Renault, Beijing is already a fierce rival.

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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