China president Xi Linping met with technology leaders in Seattle this week, telling them he welcomes the opportunities in developing both clean renewable energy as well as Internet technologies.
For many U.S. tech firms, the prospect of cracking China's massive market is too good to pass up. China's 1.3 billion people are demanding more energy each year, and the nation's leaders are adding more renewable energy than all other nations.
At the same time, China has a history of either borrowing or outright stealing technology, while political leaders are concerned about state-sanctioned cyberattacks on U.S. government agencies led by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Desite these risks: "China is too big an opportunity for high tech firms to pass up," said Scott Kennedy, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Any company that has advanced technology has to be concerned about China and institutions like the PLA trying to steal or mimic their technology. That's a constant worry and companies have whole variety of strategies to reduce that risk."
Yet the rewards dwarf the current opportunities here. Kennedy notes that China added 19 gigawatts of both solar and wind power this past year, more than double that of the United States. All told, it spent $38 billion on renewables compared to the $18 billion here in the U.S.
"When we think about the pollution concerns (China) has, their energy needs and how their large population uses more and more energy, virtually all the technologies can - think of wind, solar - can bring power to where you need it," said Todd Foley, senior vice president for policy at the American Council on Renewable Energy.
During his Seattle visit, Xi also met governors Jay Inslee of Washington, Jerry Brown of Calif., Terry Branstad of Iowa and Kate Brown of Ore., and signing an agreement aimed at pushing cooperation on the use of clean-tech businesses to combat climate change.
Cooperation on climate change has been one bright spot in relations between the countries. In November, Obama and Xi announced that the countries would work together, with China announcing it would try to cap its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, or sooner if possible.
Some clean-tech firms in Washington state, which relies largely on hydropower and where natural gas is cheap, may find markets and investment in China sooner than they might domestically.
Also this week, TerraPower, an energy company founded by Bill Gates, entered into an agreement with China National Nuclear Corp to work together on next-generation nuclear power plant technology.
Kennedy says China is gung-ho for generating more renewable energy sources (including nuclear), but it still needs to link this power with its coal-dominated power grid.
"Not only does there need to be production of sourcing of green energy, and products that use it, they have to be utilized," Kennedy said. "Renewable energy has to be connected to the grid, to infrastructure that serves electric vehicles for example. The next step is infrastructure is created so the use of these technologies can expand."
Kennnedy believes U.S. firms getting involved in China can protect themselves from intellectual property theft in several ways: by monitoring information through RFID chips and other methods, by requiring after-sale service to keep the tech running, and by staying out of joint ventures with Chinese partners that could leak vital data.
The thing is, Kennedy said, companies can lose data even if they don't go to China.
"Even if you don't go to the Chinese market," he said, "but as long as your computer is hooked up to the Internet, you could have your stuff stolen when it is in the garage."
Xi and Obama met at the White House, followed by a state dinner tonight.