How China's tech footprint in 2020 echoed Xi's vision
The Long March-5 rocket at Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China's Hainan Province on May 5, 2020. /CFP

The Long March-5 rocket at Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China's Hainan Province on May 5, 2020. /CFP

China should establish itself as one of the most innovative countries by 2020 and as a leading innovator by 2030, finally becoming a world science and technology power by the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 2049.
 -  Xi Jinping said at the National Science and Technology Innovation Conference in 2016

When President Xi Jinping charted the course for China's technology development in 2016, no one in China could have imagined that a sudden outbreak of a deadly virus would throw the whole world into complete chaos four years later. But China's tech and science sector seems largely unruffled by the virus. As soon as the pandemic was brought under control, the whole industry started to move at warp speed.

From deep space to deep sea

This year, China became the third country after the United States and the former Soviet Union to retrieve samples from the moon.

The Chang'e-5 lunar probe was launched into space via a domestically developed heavy-lift rocket in November and made a soft landing on December 1.

The landing site was a 1,300-meter-high volcanic complex on the near side of the moon, an area that no one and nothing from Earth had ever touched.

The spacecraft then examined the surroundings, gathered surface materials and brought the samples back on a successful return.

Click here to check out CGTN's coverage of the Chang'e-5 lunar mission

As a latecomer, China has envisioned an ambitious but steady path toward the moon. Starting from 2004, the country's Lunar Exploration Program followed a "three-step" plan and detailed timetables. The mission team tested technologies and made trials and errors. Despite occasional setbacks, in 2020, efforts given to the space program finally paid off.

Similar models can also be found in China's plan to develop its own Global Positioning System (GPS). After putting the final satellite into orbit in June, China now has a network consisting of 35 satellites. The constellation provides global navigation coverage 24/7.


The Beidou Navigation Satellite System, known as BDS, serves as an alternative to the U.S.' GPS, Russia's GLONASS and the European Galileo systems. Initiated in the early 1990s, the project allows the country to reduce reliance on U.S.-led technology.

Beijing has not "staked out some sort of declarative statement where they want to replace the United States as leader in space," Brendan Curry, chief of Washington, D.C., operations at the Planetary Society told the New York Times on December 16. "But they certainly want to be a major actor in space."

The moon mission is just a start, according to the officials at the China National Space Administration. They have committed to a much longer goal of creating a lunar base capable of supporting more space explorations in the decades to come.


Another of China's 2020 tech breakthroughs that captured people's imaginations was a manned deep-sea exploration.

The domestically developed submersible Fendouzhe, or Striver, set a national record of 10,909 meters for manned deep-sea diving after landing in the deepest known point of the trench, Challenger Deep, just shy of the 10,927-meter world record set by an American explorer last year. It also beamed up the world's first live video from there.

Beijing later set up a joint training and research center with the International Seabed Authority with the deep-sea materials and species collected during the mission.

The center will train professionals on deep-sea technology and research mining for valuable minerals at the bottom of the ocean, according to the mission team.

It is also expected to set standards for China's future deep-sea vessels. "It takes more than two trials before we can call it a real success," said Zhu Min, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences involved in the mission.


Light-speed computing capability

Another epoch-making development widely recognized by the global scientific community this year was the Chinese Academy of Science's quantum computer prototype.

The quantum computer prototype-Jiuzhang can perform certain computations nearly 100 trillion times faster than the world's most advanced supercomputer and complete a task that the world's fastest conventional machine would not be able to complete in 600 million years, according to the research published in Science on December 3.

In October, Chinese officials revealed that quantum technology will be written into the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), a policy that sets medium-term goals for the country's economic and social development, as one of the country's future priorities.

"China should be more forward-looking when developing a new generation of high tech represented by intelligent and quantum technologies in the next five years," Qin Yong, a senior official at the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology told the press.

"Efforts should be made to bridge the gap between the demand for high-quality development and insufficient technological innovation capabilities," he said. 

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