The water sector needs to increase its resource efficiency; failure to do so may have negative effects on economic development and growth. Achieving a higher level of innovative capacity within the water sector may govern a country's capacity to meet specific water challenges while becoming still more important for ensuring sustainable economic development. Traditional water technologies are reaching their stagnation point; in a transition to more sustainable technologies, eco-innovation is the core driver. Based on the national innovative capacity (NIC) as an analytical framework, - indicators that govern the innovative capacity of the water sector were tested in a comparative analysis of Europe versus China, representing respectively, an early mover and a late mover in the green economy agenda. Additionally, an analysis of the evolution of the water technological development is provided. The innovative capacity in the water sector was found to be strongly related to the national innovative strategy. Environmental regulations, research and development and international collaboration were all found to be determinants for both Europe's and China's NIC in the water sector. The level of direct investments and private research and development, on the other hand, were found to be a determinant for China only. However, the evolution of the NIC determinants could not provide any insight as to whether China may reach the same level of NIC in the water sector as Europe. This analysis contributes nonetheless to increasing the level of understanding in the field of water innovation dynamics - providing insights - as to why Europe and China present different innovative capacities in the water sector.