Technology and innovation in China's Path to 2035
Updated 13:35, 11-Mar-2021

I'm Robert Lawrence Kuhn and here's what I'm watching:

China's overarching national goals to become an "innovative nation" by 2020, be in the "front ranks" of innovative countries by 2035, and a "global scientific power" by 2050. China has achieved the first goal – for example, the number of patents filed by Chinese entities now leads the world though quality, while improving, still lags.

But now, in light of disrupting international conditions, led by US sanctions and pressures to decouple science and technology, China has a laser focus on self-reliance in science and technology.

At a recent meeting of the Central Commission for Comprehensively Deepening Reform, the Party's most important policy-setting authority, CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping set the number one reform priority for 2021 as "pursuing high-level independence" in scientific innovation.

In formulating the "14th Five-Year Plan", 2021-2025, and in setting a long-range 15-year plan to 2035 – both formalized by the National People's Congress during the 2021 Two Sessions – the CPC, in its 5th Plenum in October 2020, established a "new development stage", developing a "new development philosophy" and applying a "new development paradigm".

Clearly, these new development stage, philosophy and paradigm demand that scientific and technological innovation be top priority in order to create new development momentum by accelerating key core technology capabilities and research.

The 14th Five-year Plan emphasizes artificial intelligence and machine learning integrated circuit design and manufacturing semiconductor chips, quantum computing, life sciences and biotechnology, especially brain sciences, and new materials.

Technological applications emphasize the digital economy, 5G, intelligent manufacturing, healthcare, alternative energy and new energy vehicles, and space and sea sciences, among others.

Chinese experts cite three ways how China's national development over the next five years must stress technological independence and self-reliance.

First: increase the proportion of original innovation, especially basic research. Currently, the proportion of China's basic research investment of its total R&D investment is below 6%, which is far lower than the 18% in the U.S. and 25% in France.

Second: continue intelligent industrial upgrading and transformation, transitioning from "following" to "parallel running" or even to "leading" in some high-tech fields.

Third: prepare for de-globalization and uncoupling of scientific and technological cooperation and supply chains; indigenous innovation must alleviate bottlenecks and make up for shortcomings, particularly in semiconductor chips. China plans to spend $1.4 trillion during the next five years in emerging new technologies: AI, 5G, chips, data centers, and quantum computing.

But there are challenges: When huge funds are allocated by government and time-periods are demanded to be short, it is all too easy for resources to be misallocated to well-connected but poorly equipped enterprises, causing inefficiencies, waste, distraction and disappointment.

In response, the government is tightening peer-review procedures and engaging the private sector. One lens through which to view China's science and technology is that of the New Development Concepts, which fit the new development stage and drive the 14th Five-year Plan.

Of the five Concepts, innovation holds the top spot. I'm keeping watch. I'm Robert Lawrence Kuhn.

Scriptwriter: Robert Lawrence Kuhn

Cameraman: Morgan Compagnon

Video editor: Hao Xinxin

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