Elmer Corbin

The new Chair of the ASQ Board of Directors, Elmer Corbin, appears to have provided misleading comments to the Chinese state-run media agency Xinhua as part of a media blitz by ASQ CEO William Troy in support of ASQ’s pro-China policies. Corbin, having taken over the role of Chairman of ASQ’s Board recently, has slipped into the role as promoter of ASQ’s policies, rather than as a bulwark against the organization’s excesses.

In an interview with Xinhua, Corbin claimed that conflict between the US and China was “a political situation,” and would be resolved shortly. When asked about disputes regarding Chinese theft of US intellectual property, Corbin dismissed this as well.

In the typical style of state-run media, Xinhua framed the question to Corbin so as to pit him against the US government, saying:

The ASQ chair challenged the allegation by some US politicians about “China’s unfair acquisition of US technology and intellectual property (IP) rights,” saying he is not worried about the sharing of knowledge with China.

The quote appears attributed to Xinhua, not Corbin, who appears to have taken the bait. Corbin responded by dismissing the problem of Chinese counterfeiting entirely, while providing a statement regarding his current employer, IBM, that appears false on its face.

I work for IBM (International Business Machines), and as a matter fact we have several very big development labs in China. So we are creating IP in those labs. I don’t think that that’s a major issue, if you have the right safeguards in place.

This statement dramatically contradicts the reality of IBM’s position with China vis-a-vis intellectual property theft. As reported to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based news agency that is not part of the Communist China state-run machine, IBM is one of the world’s biggest corporate victims of Chinese intellectual property theft, disproving Corbin’s assertion that the company has “safeguards” against it:

US industry groups representing Apple, IBM and other tech giants have blamed China’s rules on inbound investment for infringing the intellectual property rights of US companies.

Erin Ennis, senior vice-president of the US-China Business Council, told [a] hearing in Washington that rules that required them to transfer technology to Chinese enterprises “as a condition to gain market access” might place “unreasonable and discriminatory burdens” on American commercial interests.

In May of 2017, an employee of IBM pleaded guilty to theft of IBM source code, which he then attempted to smuggle back into China. Xu Jiaqiang, a Chinese national, was sentenced to five years in prison for the crime:

Xu not only stole high tech trade secrets from his U.S. employer — a federal crime — he did so both for his own profit and intent ending to benefit the Chinese government,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dana Bonte.

[Source: Washington Times]

At the same time China is openly engaged in the theft or abuse of US intellectual property, President Xi Jinping is increasing China’s ability to protect its own intellectual property, including a plan for China to weaponize the  “controlling standards” as a military advantage.:

President Xi Jinping is in the midst of an effort to strengthen laws on patents, copyrights and trademarks, giving fledgling firms in China new sources of revenue and prestige. The country is also pursuing an ambitious plan, called Made in China 2025, to become a global leader in areas such as robotics and medical technology and kick off the next phase of China’s development. The efforts reflect the view of Chinese officials that controlling global technologies and standards is on par with building military muscle.

[Source: Irish Times]

ASQ, along with ANSI, ISO and the IAF, have largely succumbed to China’s weaponization of standards, allowing Chinese nationals to take over key positions such as the Presidency of both ISO and the IAF, and hold key board positions. This gives China dramatic sway in not only the development of ISO standards, stripping that power away from the UK which previously held the position, but also in the accreditation scheme for ISO 9001 and related system certifications. China is thought to be the world’s top producer of counterfeit ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certificates, alongside India.

Bloomberg reported on the Chinese push to take over global standards, calling it China’s attempt at “altering the global competitive landscape by defining and exporting technical standards for everything from artificial intelligence to hydropower”:

This push into global standards-setting has gone largely unnoticed. That’s partly because it’s boring: Even broaching the topic will make investors’ eyes glaze over, and few Western governments have given it much thought.

But it’s also partly by design. The process has so far mostly unfolded domestically, and in Chinese, as China’s government has sought to develop its own set of industrial standards for companies operating within its borders. That has made the effort mostly opaque to outsiders. Yet regulators are now starting to translate those standards into English — a clear sign that they’re meant to be exported overseas. And that should worry China’s competitors.

[Source: Bloomberg.]

Nevertheless, ISO and ASQ have launched a pro-China marketing push to compensate for lagging standards sales and declining memberships in the US. In a previous interview with the state-run agency Xinhua, ASQ CEO William Troy boasted of his support for the Made in China initiative, during the group’s first “US-China Quality Summit” in 2018:

When asked whether the current trade frictions would affect the cooperation on quality between China and the United States, [Troy] said, “I think that there’s so much benefit to both countries. To have this conversation about quality is going to expand that benefit.”

“This is a historic event. This has never been done before to have a quality summit between our Chinese friends in the U.S. It’s a remarkable achievement that we came together to make it happen.”

[Source: Xinhua.]

An article in Quality Digest, an online publication which competes against ASQ’s Quality Progress, criticized the US-China Summit and called out the dangers of the Made in China 2025 initiative, but fell short of calling out ASQ for complicity.

ASQ operates a handful of international branches as part of its “World Partners” brand, of which one is ASQ China (renamed as ASQ North Asia), which operates its own Chinese-language website. Through that portal, ASQ sells its training courses and certifications to the Chinese market, thus suggesting a commercial motivation for its pro-China policy.

The position puts ASQ in a spotlight, though, as ASQ acts as the official Secretary for many ANSI committees which are tasked in developing official policies on behalf of the United States, in matters pertaining to standardization. Many of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) members are also ASQ Fellows, Senior Members or other ASQ functionaries, who are tasked with promoting US interests when representing the country to ISO; close ties to China increases suspicion over such members’ ability to do so.

ANSI likewise has launched its pro-China marketing push, through an “ANSI China Program,” which it claims “has a direct and growing role in fostering greater U.S.-China cooperation in the areas of standardization and conformity assessment.”

Corbin and Troy have executed a plan in which the ASQ central office has demanded ASQ Sections surrender their local funds to Milwaukee, to be subject to centralized control and disbursement, a move that has caused some to see it as an imitation of the Chinese centralized government. The move ensures that ASQ members have no say in whether their funds are used to promote an enemy of the United States.

Elmer Corbin did not reply to attempts to contact him for comments on this article.

[Related editorial: Why ASQ’s Sinofication of US Quality Matters, and Why It Doesn’t.]