Build China into a World Leader in Science and Technology

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China II Updated: 2021-12-24

Build China into a World Leader in Science and Technology*


May 30, 2016


The history of human development proves that innovation has always been important for promoting the development of a country and its people as well as human society. One will fall behind without innovation, and just as much if one is too slow in innovation. We will face strategic passiveness and miss opportunities for development – or miss an entire era – if we fail to seek, recognize and respond to change. Seeking innovation-driven development is a natural choice if we are to adapt to changing developmental conditions, hold the decision-making power for our own development, and improve our core competitiveness; if we are to speed up the transformation of our growth model and solve deep-rooted conflicts and problems; if we are to better steer the new normal in economic development and sustain sound growth.

Science and technology are the bedrock upon which a country relies for its strength, enterprises for success, and people for a better life. Great scientific and technological capacity is a must if we are to make China strong and improve our lives.

New missions and tasks of the new era require us to develop new concepts, designs and strategies regarding technological innovation. We should implement new development concepts, and invigorate our country through science and technology and fostering people of high caliber. We should further implement the innovation-driven development strategy, and promote the development of science and technology through overall planning and coordination.

First, we will reinforce the foundations in order to rank China among world leaders in key science and technology.

To advance science and technology, we must be able to identify breakthrough points, so that we can seize opportunities. As Mencius said, "It is wiser to avail oneself of a favorable situation than to rely on one's mere wisdom."1 History shows that the countries that realized modernization by making the best use of the scientific and technological revolution were all strong in science and technology, and those that became world leaders by making the best of the revolution all possessed cutting-edge technologies in key fields.

On the whole, China ranks among the most advanced countries in science and technology, and innovation is playing an increasing role in supporting and guiding our economic and social development. However, we should be aware that in our drive to become a scientific and technological leader, we still face major obstacles. For instance, we still have to depend on others for core technologies in key fields, our scientific and technological foundation is still weak, and our innovation capability, especially in original innovation, is not strong.

Science and technology respond to the call of the times and have a global impact. To develop them we should have a global vision and meet the needs of the times. In today's world, a new scientific and technological revolution is gaining momentum. Original breakthroughs concerning the structure of matter, the evolution of our universe, the origin of life, the nature of consciousness and other significant issues are pushing back the frontiers and indicating the direction of new research. Some major disruptive technologies are creating new industries and new forms of business, and information, biological, manufacturing, new materials, and new energy technologies are diffusing into nearly all sectors. All this has brought about massive technological changes that are green, intelligent and ubiquitous. The integration of new generation information technology represented by big data, cloud computing, and mobile internet with robot and smart manufacturing technologies is accelerating, and the innovation chain is becoming more flexible. It has become more convenient to make technological upgrading and commercialize scientific and technological advances, and industrial upgrading is speeding up, shifting production and consumption from industrialization-based to automatic and intelligent, and leading to another step forward in the productive forces and productivity.

We must seize the time, because wait-and-see produces nothing and imitation gets us nowhere. Time and tide wait for no one. We must have a sense of urgency and implement our strategy without delay to expand our comprehensive capability in innovation. As scientists and engineers, you must be confident and break new ground. You should try to make things of your own, venture to explore the most cutting-edge issues, create more theories, and make more discoveries. You should seek leapfrog development in key fields, catch up with or even lead global development, and seize the strategic initiative in a new round of global competition.

Second, we will follow our strategic orientation and tackle core problems.

We must have a correct strategic orientation, which provides key guidance on innovation and ensures that breakthroughs are made on tough issues. Currently, our country is in greater need than ever before for strategic support from science and technology.

I will give you a few examples. Theoretically, the distribution of usable underground resources extends from the surface to a depth of 10,000 meters. Advanced world technology can explore to a depth of 2,500 meters to 4,000 meters, while our own technology only allows us access to a depth of 500 meters. So deeper exploration capacity is a strategic problem we must solve.

Materials are the key to manufacturing. Our country lags far behind in the research, development and production of advanced high-end materials, and has to rely on imports of key high-end materials.

Our markets in many key patented medicines are dominated by foreign companies, and we rely on imports for high-end medical equipment. This is one of the main causes for high medical costs. Research and development in new medicines largely depends on new achievements and breakthroughs in life science and biotechnology; in advanced medical equipment it requires inter-disciplinary and system integration.

Research on the brain atlas based on connectional architecture is at the cutting-edge of work on human brain function and probes into the essence of consciousness. Besides scientific significance, such exploration will guide the prevention and treatment of brain diseases and the development of intelligent technology.

There are many resources in the deep sea that are yet to be recognized and developed. To reach these resources, we have to master key technologies in terms of deep-sea penetration, exploration and exploitation.

Space technology has profoundly enriched human knowledge about the universe, and provides powerful impetus to social progress. More mysteries await us in the immensity of space, and to solve them, we must develop comprehensive space science, technology and utilization.

There are many other such fields. The CPC Central Committee has drawn up a long-term strategy for scientific and technological development through the year 2030, and decided to roll out a number of projects. Our scientists and engineers should accelerate the progress of these projects, respond to the country's strategic needs, advance research into key core technologies, and occupy the strategic "commanding heights" that have a bearing on long-term overall development.

To build our country into a scientific and technological leader and a global center for research and innovation, we must have a number of first-class research institutes, research universities and innovative enterprises, which will produce substantial achievements in their original research.

It was decided at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2015 to build a number of state laboratories for the purpose of innovation in key areas. This is of strategic importance. The development of these laboratories is expected to reinforce our national strategic science and technology. In dimensions with clear state goals and urgent strategic needs, and in strategic areas that may lead future development, with the focus on key scientific and technological programs and large-scale state scientific infrastructure, and based on the most competitive innovators, we will integrate nationwide innovation resources, and build a new mechanism that is goal- and performance-oriented and encourages cooperation and resource sharing, and build state laboratories with the mission of making breakthroughs, conducting guiding research, and serving as platforms. Such laboratories should be a strategic force in tackling key problems and guiding future development. They should complement and interact with other research institutes, universities and R&D centers of enterprises, and promote collaborative innovation with them.

Third, we will increase our scientific and technological support to economic and social development. As an ancient Chinese philosopher put it, "One studies everything to obtain knowledge, and proves it in practice."2 Scientific research should serve economic and social development and the needs of the people in their pursuit of the truth. You scientists and engineers should base your research on the land of China and apply your research results in our nation's drive for modernization.

After more than 30 years of reform and opening up, China's economy now ranks second in the world. However, in many sectors we are not strong, we are just large in size. Today, the model where expanding economic growth and scale is supported mainly by resources, capital, labor and other inputs is no longer sustainable, and our country is facing challenging tasks such as transforming drivers and the growth model and adjusting the economic structure.

The driving forces generated by low-cost resources and factor inputs are evidently weakening, and we have to rely on more and better scientific and technological innovation to fuel our economy. We are facing challenges such as providing care for an aging population, eliminating poverty, and improving health, and we have to rely on more and better scientific innovation to sustain coordinated economic and social development. We now encounter increasing pollution that undermines our ecological conservation efforts, and we have to rely on more and better scientific innovation to build a beautiful China with blue skies, green vegetation and clean water. We are facing pressures related to energy, food, cyberspace, ecology, biology and national defense, and we have to rely on more and better scientific and technological innovation to ensure national security. All in all, innovation holds the key to the development of our country.

To advance sustained, sound social and economic development and supply-side structural reform and fulfill the five tasks, i.e., cutting excess capacity, reducing excess inventory, deleveraging, lowering costs, and strengthening areas of weakness, we have to make a fundamental change to the internal forces driving our development and create new impetus. We will promote innovation-driven and leading-edge development with preemptive strength. On the basis of in-depth research, we will produce the scientific and technological advances needed for economic and industrial development. We will promote the commercialization of scientific research results and encourage industries and products to target the medium- and high-end markets, in our endeavors to transform the growth model and adjust the economic structure, build a modern industrial system, foster strategic emerging industries, and develop modern services.

A prominent problem has long been imbalance – between different regions, between urban and rural areas, between economic and social development, between material progress and cultural and ethical progress, and between economic growth and national defense. We must rely on scientific and technological innovation, exploit our potential for innovation-driven development, and make innovation the foundation for our development. Innovation will open up space, bring about opportunities, create driving force, promote the synchronic advances of a new type of industrialization, information application, urbanization and agricultural modernization, enhance overall efficiency and performance, and bring coordinated development to a higher level.

Green development is needed for ecological conservation. It represents the direction for contemporary scientific and industrial revolution, and offers the most promising prospects. Human beings must respect, accommodate and protect nature in their activities; otherwise we will be punished by nature. This is a rule no one can deny. We will deepen our understanding of natural rules, and take actions accordingly in a conscious manner. For this, we will study means of ecological conservation and restoration, and raise our awareness of biodiversity and other scientific rules. We will reinforce management and protection policies, comprehend global changes and the mechanism of carbon cycling, and rely on scientific innovation to pursue green development and achieve harmony between man and nature.

International economic cooperation and competition are experiencing profound changes, and the system and rules of global economic governance are undergoing significant adjustment. Economic globalization is superficially exemplified by an extensive flow of products, capital and information across the world, but behind such a flow is the propelling force of human resources and scientific and technological innovation. We will enhance our capacity for guiding this flow, and bring opening up to a new level. We will build up our strength and capacity to participate in the formulation of global economic, financial and trade rules, conduct international cooperation in economic development and scientific and technological innovation at a higher level, and participate in global governance in a more extensive community of common interests, so as to realize common development.

The people's needs and appeals call for scientific and technological progress and innovation. As our country develops, our more than 1.3 billion people are expecting a better life. More scientific and technological innovation is needed to enhance social development and improve their lives and health. We will treat their concerns and worries as our own, address issues such as the control and prevention of major diseases, safety of food and medicine, and an aging society, and substantially increase public scientific services, so as to ensure a more livable environment, better health care, and safer food and medicines. We will rely on scientific and technological innovation to build a system of extensive public services low in cost and high in quality. We will increase inclusive and public scientific provision, develop low-cost disease control and prevention and long-distance medical technologies, and make available quality medical and health care resources. We will develop information and cyber technologies, narrow the digital divide between different income groups and between different regions, and realize equal access to quality cultural and educational resources.

Fourth, we will form an energetic mechanism for science management and operation through reform and innovation. Innovation is a systemic project. The chains of innovation, industry, capital and policy are intertwined and mutually supportive to each other. Reform in one single link or just two or three is far from sufficient. Rather, we will make overall planning and proceed in a firm manner. Scientific innovation and institutional innovation should work with synergy, like the simultaneous movement of the two wheels of a chariot.

Our greatest strength lies in our socialist system, which enables us to pool resources in a major mission. This is the key to our success. We have relied on this in making noticeable scientific breakthroughs in the past. And today we will still rely on this in achieving leapfrog scientific and technological innovations. We will develop a new mechanism under the socialist market economy to pool our resources in scientific initiatives.

We encourage scientific and technological innovation and will proceed with a thorough reform of the science and technology management system and relevant systems. We will build a decision-making mechanism that enables scientific consultation to support administrative decision-making, reinforce scientific decision-making consultation, and build high-level scientific think tanks. We will accelerate the institutionalization of major scientific decision-making in order to prevent officials from making random decisions or scientists from passively acting upon them. We will follow the rules of scientific innovation and improve resource allocation, abandon the practice of simply applying administrative budget and financial management to run scientific resources, and improve ways to support basic research, strategic high-tech research, and research in technologies for public benefit, in order to maximize the efficiency of scientific and technological innovation. We will reform and innovate the ways to use and manage R&D funds, and let the money serve creative activities rather than vice versa. We will reform the appraisal system and establish a classified system to appraise the quality, contribution and performance of scientific and technological innovations and make correct ratings of their scientific, technological, economic, social and cultural value.

Enterprises are an important force in integrating science and technology with the economy. They should do more to make innovation-related decisions, arrange R&D investment, organize research programs, and apply research results. We will work out and implement policies that encourage technological innovation in enterprises, and reinforce the mechanism to encourage enterprise innovation, increase support to technological innovation in SMEs, promote reform in circulation, combat monopolies and unfair competition, and guide enterprises to build up their R&D. We will move faster to improve the management systems concerning the use, disposal and benefits of research results, let the market play a decisive role in resource allocation, and activate organizations, personnel, equipment, capital and projects, so as to form a strong synergy in supporting innovation. We will adjust current industrial and local research institutes, ensure that enterprises augment their R&D strength, support the establishment of enterprise-based national centers for technological innovation, and encourage enterprises to become globally influential and lead their industries.

Research institutes and research universities are the major centers for China's science and technology, and the cradle of innovative talent. They should improve the planning of their research programs. Research institutes should improve the arrangement of their programs in accordance with global trends, consolidate their disciplinary foundations, foster emerging interdisciplinary fields, support research on common technologies, programs for the public good, and sustainable development, and increase public scientific supplies. Research universities should boost their disciplinary strength, with a focus on conducting basic research on the basis of the freedom to experiment. Institutes and universities should cooperate to integrate goal-oriented research with the freedom to experiment, and adopt a new model to enable teaching and research to benefit each other and work together in education, thus laying a solid foundation for our further innovation and human resource development in science and technology.

We will give full play to the initiatives of all regions in innovation-driven development. This is very important to the formation of national synergy in scientific and technological innovation. We will serve the Belt and Road Initiative, the Yangtze River Economic Belt and the Coordinated Development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, respect the need for regional agglomeration in scientific and technological innovation, explore paths of innovation-driven development suited to local conditions, accelerate the building of innovation centers with global influence, and create a few innovative cities and regional innovation centers with radiating effect.

Fifth, we will encourage the spirit of innovation and train people to contribute to innovation-driven development. According to an ancient Chinese book, "Feats are accomplished by capable people; work develops because of achievers."3 Science and technology activities are great creative endeavors. All innovations are achieved by people. We need a large, well-structured contingent of high-caliber people, and we must stimulate their creative potential in order to build China into a world leader in science and technology. We should motivate and respect the creativity of scientists and engineers, and encourage them to promote and conduct innovations, so that proposing, promoting and conducting innovations will become their conscious drive.

China has the largest reserves of scientists and engineers in the world. This offers great possibilities for the emergence of leading masters, scientists and professionals. The cultivation and training of scientific personnel has its rules to follow. We will work to ensure that capable people are spotted and their talent is valued, respected and put to use, and create a stimulating environment for their development. We will discover, nurture and retain capable people throughout the whole process of innovation. We will appeal for talent around the world and let more of them display their potential to the full.

We will improve our mechanisms for training, recruiting and using capable people, and work hard to bring up a large number of strategic scientists and engineers with broad vision to perceive the global trend of scientific and technological development, a large number of leaders good at pooling strengths and coordinating overall work, and a large number of entrepreneurs and high-caliber technicians who are bold and skilled in innovation. We will improve the training model for creative personnel, value the spirit of science and creative thinking, and increase collaboration between research and education and between universities and enterprises in order to foster a large number of young scientists and engineers, and a large number of people who know the market, have scientific knowledge, and dare to start businesses or pursue innovation. We will create a healthy academic environment, advocate academic ethics and research morality, and create an enabling environment that encourages innovation and tolerates failure. We will increase protection of intellectual property rights, and introduce policies oriented to rewarding knowledge, including raising the share of benefits to researchers from commercialized research results, and giving them the incentives they deserve, such as stock shares, options and dividends.

In basic research, and in some areas of applied research, we need to respect the spontaneous inspiration of scientists and their random ways of experimentation with uncertain prospects, and allow them to freely experiment with and test the bold hypotheses they have. We will not interfere in their research or urge them to produce results, or use stereotypes to restrict their research. Haste makes waste. We will restrain from seeking immediate gains from research, but have our eyes on the future. We will refrain from giving arbitrary or impractical directions, but grant leading scientists and engineers more power and liberty to decide upon the direction of their research, and greater management of research funds and resources. We will establish corresponding systems of responsibilities and accountabilities, and address the problems of rushing headlong into mass action and "white elephant" projects. Competent government departments should draw up strategies, plans and policies, provide services, and exploit the collective strength of national strategic scientific force.

Scientific and technological innovation and dissemination of science are the two wings to propel our innovation-driven development. The latter should be considered as important as the former. If the scientific literacy of the whole of society is not raised, we cannot build a large contingent of high-caliber innovative personnel, nor turn their research results into production quickly. You scientists and engineers should take it as your mission to enhance the scientific literacy of the whole nation, and make it your unshirkable duty to spread science, the spirit of science, and scientific thinking and methods. With your efforts, we will see a society emerge where everyone loves, studies and uses science, and this should allow the creativity of the Chinese people to flourish.

* Part of the speech at the joint session of the National Conference on Scientific and Technological Innovation, the 18th Meeting of the Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the 13th Meeting of the Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the Ninth National Congress of the China Association for Science and Technology.


1 The Mencius (Meng Zi)

2  Tuo Tuo et al.: History of the Song Dynasty (Song Shi). Tuo Tuo (1314-1355) was an official of the Yuan Dynasty. 

3  Pei Songzhi's annotations in the Records of the Three Kingdoms. Pei Songzhi (372- 451) was a historian during the Northern and Southern Dynasties. 

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