Should western workers fear China’s rise as a hi-tech nation? The question is topical as Alcatel-Lucent, the struggling French telecoms manufacturer, has  just announced 10,000 job cuts, the latest round of losses in an industry that has seen the rapid rise of Chinese competitors.

The layoffs are being hotly contested, not least by the unions in France, where labor laws make workforce reductions difficult and expensive.  The picture shows French demonstrators holding a banner which says “our know-how goes to Asia”.

Jason Kariain, European correspondent for Quartz, contrasts the inexorable rise of Chinese telecoms equipment manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE with the successive rounds of job losses and restructuring at their western rivals.

His article is titled “Unless your company is Chinese, it’s a tough time to be a telecoms engineer”. But are jobs being exported to China and should current and prospective telecoms engineers in the west be unduly concerned about the inexorable rise of the Chinese?

In the past decade, China became the manufacturing center par excellence for hi-tech products, so irrespective of whether your internet router is branded Huawei, Cisco or Alcatel, it will say Made in China on the label.

So its a bit late for hi-tech workers in the west to complain about the loss of manufacturing jobs to China.  The real issue is whether R&D jobs will also shift eastwards.

Undoubtedly some will, but not as many as critics might expect, I would argue. That’s because  Chinese firms such as ZTE and Huawei are very aware that the “brain drain”  is a politically sensitive issue in the west.

If they want to operate successfully in western markets  — particularly if they want to win contracts from western government departments, for example — they know that they have to be seen to be giving as well as taking.

For example, last year Huawei made a strategic investment of €70m  in an R&D centre in Finland. The company presented Finland as an ideal test bed for the mobile device technologies and had high praise for its engineers.

“It is easier to find top class engineers in Finland than many other countries at the moment,” said Timo Jokiaho, Vice President of Huawei’s Finland R&D Center.

I’d expect to see more Chinese hi-tech companies following Huawei’s example by opening R%D facilities in the west because, let’s not forget, China has a skills shortage.

Ironically, a few months after Huawei opened its Finnish R&D center, Nokia, the Finnish company that once dominated the mobile space, announced it would cut 300 jobs, mostly in Finland, and transfer as many as 820 employees to Indian suppliers, removing them from its payroll.

Nokia’s Finnish employment had already fallen 40 percent in the six years up to 2012 and the company last month agreed to sold its handset business to Microsoft, which will presumably lead to more job losses.

Its not difficult to see which way the wind is blowing.

Clearly, if western government cannot stop their own national hi-tech champions sacking workers or exporting jobs to low-cost countries, it seems disingenuous to claim that China is in some way to blame for the “brain drain”.

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