The labs vary in size and ambition, but as they multiply and expand they may help China grow from mostly a user and copier of advanced technologies developed elsewhere into a powerful incubator of its own, industry executives and experts say. And the shift may eventually reshape applied research, jobs and policies in the United States and other developed countries.

“The Chinese are going to become sources of innovation,” said Denis Fred Simon, a specialist in Chinese science and technology who is provost of the new graduate-level Levin Institute of the State University of New York. “They will find themselves enmeshed in global R.& D. more and more.”

But it is far from certain that China will reap the full rewards of this flowering. Planting and nurturing corporate labs is a delicate business, and in China they are buffeted by concerns about protecting patents, retaining and training researchers, and managing the distances – physical and cultural – between here and headquarters.

When Microsoft opened its Beijing lab in late 1998, it was among the first multinationals to establish a large research center in China. It hoped investing in research here would help pry open the door to two dazzling prizes: China’s large reservoir of skilled but inexpensive scientists, and its consumers, still relatively poor but growing richer and eager for new technology.

After considering several sites in Asia, Microsoft settled on the Haidian District, home to some 40 universities, 138 scientific institutes and many of China’s 810,000 research scientists and engineers.

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