GlobalAutoTV
Click to watch David S. Eberly -
Click to watch David S. Eberly -
china resources


Need an office in China? Office suites, meeting rooms, virtual offices, network access



free downloads
CHINA: "Sichuan Earthquake Impact Study"

CHINA: "Sichuan Earthquake Impact Study". 4-page report by KPMG China.

proceed to download
eJournals






back to index backCHINAtalk November,  2016


How China is fast narrowing the technology gap with the West

China recently scored impressive breakthroughs in science and technology (S&T). These include a gigantic 500m-aperture spherical telescope, the launch of the world's first hacker-proof quantum satellite and the world's fastest computer - the new Sunway Tianhe-1A - which extends China's lead in supercomputing.

Indeed, China has in recent years made remarkable progress across several S&T sectors. In space technology, for instance, it has sent 10 astronauts into orbit over the last 13 years, launched its first moon probe and two space stations (Tiangong 1 and 2). Most recently, China launched the Shenzhou XI manned spacecraft with two astronauts to the Tiangong II space lab for a 30-day manoeuvre.

Former US energy secretary Steven Chu has even observed that China is ahead of America in areas ranging "from wind power to nuclear reactors to high-speed rail". China is also catching up fast in artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, 5-G broadband technology and the "Internet of Things".

China's military modernisation is such that the Pentagon has started to worry. Beijing's growing arsenal of modern weapons includes the high-performance fifth-generation stealth fighter, "aircraft-carrier killer" missile, anti-ship cruise missile, nuclear submarine and long-range intercontinental missile.

All these should come as no surprise, given that China is the world's second largest economy. Last year, it devoted 2.1 per cent of its GDP to research and development activities, lower than Japan's 3.6 per cent and the 2.7 per cent of the US. But China's sum translates into a hefty US$220 billion (S$306 billion), making it the world's second largest research and development (R&D) spending after that of the US.

Consequently, China has become the world's largest source of new patents, industrial designs and trademarks. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, China in 2014 filed 34 per cent of the world's patents, compared with 22 per cent for the US and 12 per cent for Japan. China also filed 50 per cent of the world's new industrial designs, against 9 per cent for the US; and 76 per cent of new trademarks, compared with the US' 13 per cent.

The size of China's R&D manpower force looks even more formidable. Its total R&D personnel last year numbered almost four million, against 2.4 million for the whole of the European Union and 0.9 million for Japan. China also has a huge reserve army of graduates, thanks to 2,900 universities and colleges as of last year, with a total enrolment of 37 million, against the 21 million of the US. One in five of the world's university students is in China and, in line with other East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, China has a relatively high proportion (about 40 per cent) of its university students taking up science and technology subjects.

It is not just in quantity that China has made progress; its efforts to improve the quality of its S&T sector has also borne fruit. In 2014, the Nature Index/Global, which tracks high-quality scientific publications, ranked China second in the world in terms of number of scientific papers published, behind the US. Another indicator is the performance of Peking and Tsinghua universities, which were listed in the 2015-16 Times Higher Education World University Ranking as among the world's 50 best universities.

UPS AND DOWNS

Innovation as well as science and technology in China have, from the start, been promoted and directly managed by the state, and thus subject to periodic swings in domestic politics and ideology.

Following a century of war and internal strife, the formation of the People's Republic in 1949 brought peace and stability, which gave rise to a short period of rapid economic growth and S&T development in the 1950s. At that time, Soviet financial aid and technology transfer played a big part. Then came Mao Zedong's anti-intellectual ideology (Red better than Expert) during the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976, which brought the whole S&T establishment and the nation's higher education system almost to a complete standstill.

After Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping returned to power and among his first policy initiatives was the move to restore higher education and revive S&T activities, which he considered to be the very foundation of China's Four Modernisations. His successors, Mr Jiang Zemin and Mr Hu Jintao, continued to promote the sector. Today, President Xi Jinping's support of S&T development is by far the most vigorous - politically and financially.

President Xi sees a direct connection between S&T progress and China becoming a rich and powerful nation, and these are part and parcel of his "China Dream". A second factor is the economy, which is entering a "new normal" of lower growth. Future economic growth will depend on productivity growth, that is, producing more output per unit of input. And the major source of productivity growth everywhere is technological progress.

Accordingly, Mr Xi has actively promoted S&T development by giving more financial support and also forcing the S&T establishment to undergo drastic restructuring and reform. With his strong backing, the State Council in August mapped out China's 13th Five-Year Plan of Science, Technology and Innovation. Among its many targets, the plan calls for an increase in R&D spending, from 2.1 per cent of GDP last year to 2.5 per cent in 2020. Other targets include improving China's comprehensive innovation ranking from 18th now to 15th in the world; raising the global citation index of Chinese scientific papers from fourth place to second, and doubling the number of new patents filed by 2020.

THE PROMISE AND THE CHALLENGE

Historically, all cultures and all civilisations were capable of innovation, not just the Europeans, but also the Indians and the Arabs.

Ancient China was famous for its Four Great Inventions: the compass, gunpowder, paper-making and printing. The great Cambridge sinologist-cum-scientist Joseph Needham, in his Science And Civilisation In China, had painstakingly chronicled both its past discoveries and inventions and sought to explain why these inventions did not take off and develop in China as they did in Europe. He cited these unfavourable factors: China's agrarian economy, bureaucratic obstacles and the failure of its scientists to mathematise their hypotheses.

Today, however, China's S&T sector enjoys strong state support and ample funding and thus the pre-conditions for strong growth. Indeed, many of its research institutes are flush with funds and their laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art instruments. And yet, these are necessary but not always sufficient conditions for achieving real scientific breakthrough. Indeed, any highly state-managed S&T system is apt to have problems such as bureaucratic rigidity and lack of individual initiative. China's S&T system is known to have such flaws as corruption, cronyism and misappropriation of research funds.

Arising from the state's dominance, China's commercial innovation is particularly weak. Apart from a few large international brands like Huawei, ZTE and BYD, most Chinese firms are not sufficiently R&D-intensive.

Problems pertaining to the conduct of China's R&D personnel and researchers also abound. Not long ago, scandals like falsified findings and plagiarism among some scientists were reported. These are much less common today, but the Chinese scientific circle has yet to firmly establish a strong culture of honesty, integrity and humility for its scientists and researchers.

A much more vigorous and objective refereeing and auditing system for scientific findings is also needed. Its S&T system is still crying out for more reforms.

Without doubt, China is rapidly narrowing its scientific and technological gaps with developed countries. But "narrowing" is not the same as "closing" the gaps. China's S&T sector has the potential and the material pre-conditions to make further progress. Size and numbers also help.

China will continue to score new achievements here and there, but most of its S&T results still represent "catch-up" work or just refinement of imported technological knowledge rather than real breakthroughs. That will be so for many years to come and it will take at least a generation before China becomes a technological leader.

The writer is a professorial fellow at the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.

Source: The Straits Times - GAI





previous page

go top
search our site


Loading

CHINAtalk

Other articles from the same issue (November,  2016).

China Automotive Industry Outbound Investment Report 2016
play read on

China and SAE Issue Roadmap to Fast Track Autonomous Vehicles
play read on

China Automotive Industry Risk Study
play read on

China embraces hybrid cars in pivot from plug-in only path
play read on

How China’s Auto Sales Impact Iron Ore Miners
play read on

Autos/Trucks: China Vehicle Demand Continues to Outperform Expectations
play read on

China’s transformation and integration with the world economy: Opportunities for Chinese and foreign businesses
play read on

Can the EU afford to block China’s business openings to Europe by denying her the ‘market economy status’?
play read on

Germany gets tough on Chinese takeovers
play read on

Establishing an “In-House Bank” under Hong Kong’s Corporate Treasury Centre policy to improve global competitiveness
play read on

From factory to laboratory: can China become ‘leader not follower’ in innovation?
play read on

China Manufacturing and How to Prevent Quality Problems
play read on

IP Protection in China Is Finally Changing. Or So It Seems
play read on

World Intellectual Property Organization develops Chinese-English translation tool
play read on

China and the First to Market Fallacy
play read on

Does China deserve a reputation as the land of copycats?
play read on

China’s cyber and trade war has US firms, national security in crosshairs
play read on

How China is fast narrowing the technology gap with the West
play read on

Competition for white-collar jobs eases in China and wages continue to rise in third quarter
play read on

Hong Kong unions slam proposal to raise minimum wage by just HK$2 to HK$34.50 per hour
play read on

China's New Silk Road Could Re-Ignite Global Economic Growth
play read on

Chinese products will no longer be cheaper now
play read on

China Can Resist a Crash But Can’t Prevent One
play read on

China, the Renminbi and Liquidity Management
play read on

No, China is not the ‘next Japan’
play read on

Navigating the Digital Marketing Landscape in China
play read on

China anticipates booming job market in 2016
play read on

Robot replaces man: Made in China 2025
play read on

SAT’s new rules on advance pricing arrangements reflect its new thinking on tax administration
play read on


Our Free eJournals
GlobalAutoExperts

To visit GlobalAutoExperts Directory, click here.


©2008 GlobalAutoIndustry.com | HCI Group, Ltd.
101 West Big Beaver Road, Suite 1400 | Troy, MI 48084 USA
USA Tel: +1.248.687.1060 | USA Fax: +1.248.927.0347
Fax UK: +44.(0)845.127.4765 | Fax Europe: +31.20.524.1659 | Fax Asia: +852.3015.8120