Make China a Global Center for Science and Innovation*
May 28, 2018
With the advent of the 21st century, an unprecedented level of scientific and technological innovation has intensified around the globe. A new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation is redrawing the map of world innovation and reshaping the global economic structure. Breakthroughs are being made and put into application in the new-generation information technologies, including artificial intelligence, quantum information, mobile communication, the internet of things, and blockchain. A new revolution is in the making in life sciences represented by synthetic biology, gene editing, brain science and regenerative medicine. The advanced manufacturing technologies that integrate robots, digital manufacturing, and new materials are expediting the transformation of the manufacturing industry, which is becoming smarter, more service-oriented, and more eco-friendly. The rapid development of energy technologies that target cleanness, high efficiency, and sustainability is anticipated to trigger global energy reform. Space and marine technologies are expanding the living area of humanity. In short, the pioneering breakthroughs in information, life, manufacturing, energy, space and marine sciences have provided more sources of innovation in frontier and disruptive technologies. A trend of integration among different disciplines, between science and technology, among technologies, and between natural sciences and humanities and social sciences is becoming increasingly obvious. Never before have we seen science and technology exercise such a profound influence on the future of our country and the lives of our people.
Currently, some prominent problems continue to interfere with China's scientific and technological development; they need to be addressed immediately. Our science and technology vision, framework, innovative capability, resource allocation, system and policies are not yet adapted to the new tasks and requirements set at the 19th CPC National Congress held in 2017. Our basic science research is still weak, remaining a prominent problem: Enterprises do not pay enough attention to basic research; we do not achieve enough results from original research; our capabilities in underlying technologies and fundamental techniques are weak; shortcomings in fields such as machine tools, high-end microchips, basic software and hardware, development platforms, basic algorithms, basic components, and basic materials hold back our development; and we still have to rely on other countries for core technologies in key fields. Our research and development (R&D) does not fully target our need for industrial development and our weaknesses. International scientific and technological cooperation with a global vision is insufficient, and our ability to transform research results into productive forces is weak. Our systems and mechanisms for cultivating talent and our incentive mechanism to inspire enthusiasm for innovation are incomplete, and we have a shortfall in top talent and research teams. Our scientific and technological management system has not been fully adapted to the need for building our country into a scientific and technological leader. There is a lack of synergy in the implementation of major policies on scientific and technological system reform. Policies on scientific and technological innovation are not yet fully aligned with economic and industrial policies. We need to improve the social environment and mechanisms required to encourage and accommodate innovation.
To achieve prosperity and rejuvenation, China must dedicate itself to advancing science and technology, and become a major world center for science and innovation. We are closer to the goal of rejuvenating the Chinese nation than at any time in history, so the need to build China into a world leader in science and technology is more urgent than ever.
The new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial reform concurs with the transformation of China's development model. We are now in a historic period that brings us both rare opportunities and severe challenges. If we fail to overcome the challenges, we may fall even further behind developed countries. We must be fully aware that sometimes we can seize precious opportunities presented by the times and amplify our national strength, but sometimes we might miss them.
Facing the pressing situation, challenges and tasks, our scientists and engineers must closely follow current trends, take the initiative, confront problems head-on, and overcome difficulties. They should stay at the forefront of scientific and technological development and shape its direction, shoulder the great responsibilities they bear, and be the pioneers of scientific and technological innovation in the new era.
First, we should be fully aware that innovation is the primary force driving development and provides high-quality scientific and technological services to underpin a modern economic system. As the Mohist Canon1 says, "Force is the reason that an object moves." We will focus on improving the quality and efficiency of development, take supply-side structural reform as our main task, and direct our efforts towards building a better-quality supply system. We will work hard through reform for better quality, higher efficiency, and more robust drivers of economic growth to make our economy stronger. Through strengthening weak areas, exploiting potential, and creating new strengths, we will facilitate the highly-efficient flow and optimized distribution of resources, revolutionize the industrial chain, upgrade the value chain, satisfy both effective and potential demand, achieve dynamic equilibrium between supply and demand, bolster market anticipation of growth, and boost confidence in the real economy.
We are in an era when the world economy is dominated by the information industry. We need to grasp the opportunity brought about by the integration of information, internet and smart technologies, and leverage information and smart technologies to grow new driving forces for the economy. Due to their leading and buttressing role, priority will be given to developing clusters of emerging industries of strategic importance, and setting up new industrial pillars. We will fully integrate the internet, big data and artificial intelligence with the real economy, and expand and strengthen the digital economy. We will steer the revolution, optimization and upgrade of industrial technology in the direction of intelligent manufacturing, and propel the fundamental transformation of business models and enterprise structures in the manufacturing sector. We will replace the old with the new, use new growth to boost existing capacity, and move Chinese industries up to the medium-high end of the global value chain.
Second, we should be committed to independent innovation and build up our confidence and our capability. Only with self-confidence can a nation move forward steadily on the road to the future. A high and exuberant tree grows from deep roots. It is self-reliance that has enabled China to stand firmly among nations of the world, and innovation is the only path to reach new heights in science and technology. Dr. Sun Yat-sen said, "If I believe I can do it, then I am able to complete any difficult task – even moving a mountain or filling up a sea; if I don't think I can do it, then I may not succeed in even the easiest tasks like flipping over my hands or breaking off a twig."2 In innovation the odds of failure are much higher than those of success, but we should have the determination shown by patriotic poet Qu Yuan, "For the ideal that I hold dear to my heart, I will not regret a thousand deaths to die."3 Our scientists and engineers should have great confidence and resolve in innovating, being neither self-abased nor conceited. They must strive to surmount all difficulties on the way to triumph, and gain an edge in scientific and technological competition and future development.
We have learned from our experience that China cannot ask for, buy, or beg for core technologies in key fields from other countries. Only by holding these technologies in our own hands can we ensure economic security, national security and security in other areas. Our scientists and engineers must have firm confidence in the path, theory, system and culture of Chinese socialism, and boldly explore uncharted courses in the research of core technologies, particularly key generic technologies, cutting-edge frontier technologies, modern engineering technologies, and disruptive technologies. In so doing we will realize the goal that core technologies are self-developed and controllable, and keep the initiative for innovation and development securely in our own hands.
A scientific and technological leader should have landmark achievements. We need to better guide the development of science and technology by devising strategies and setting specific goals, improve our innovation system and capacity, accelerate the process of creating first-mover advantage that can support leading-edge development, devote greater efforts to planning and studying scientific issues of fundamental and overall importance, focus prime resources, and make strategic plans to achieve rapid breakthroughs in key areas and on specific problems that have hindered us. We will strive to catch up with and eventually surpass advanced countries in overall science and technology, lead the pack in key areas, and become a pioneer in emerging frontier and interdisciplinary areas, to create more competitive strength. We should take the people's desire for a better life as the goal of scientific and technological innovation, and steer our innovations towards benefiting and enriching the people and improving their living standards.
Basic research is the bedrock of the whole scientific system. We should target frontier research, stay ahead of the curve, and lay good foundations for future development. Our scientists and engineers should be "planters of trees" and "diggers of wells", engaging in work that might bring no fame but can lay the groundwork for future research. We should make major breakthroughs in pioneering basic research and groundbreaking original innovations, so as to lay solid foundations for building China into a world leader in science and technology. We will strengthen basic research in applied sciences, focus on major scientific and technological projects, remove obstacles in the process, speed up the application of research results in industries, bolster the precise docking of the innovation chain and the industrial chain, expedite the transformation of research results from prototypes to commercial products, and fully apply scientific and technological advances to our modernization drive.
Engineering science and technology is a key engine driving human progress, and a powerful lever to promote industrial revolution, economic growth and social progress. Those working in this sector should show fine workmanship and team spirit. Focusing on the needs of national strategies, major technological issues that relate to economic development and national security, people's actual needs, and the demands of civil-military integration in the new era, we will accelerate the application of innovations, and take the initiative in pioneering and strategic fields.
Third, we should reform in depth the system of science and technology in all respects, improve innovation efficiency and inspire innovation vitality. Innovation determines the future, and reform is critical to the prospects of a nation. Science and technology are the fields where continuous reform is most needed. On June 9, 2014, I emphasized in my speech at the joint session of academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering that the most urgent priority for stimulating independent innovation is to remove institutional barriers and fully unleash the huge potential of science and technology as the primary productive forces. To complete these priority tasks, we have promoted institutional reform in science and technology for years. We have made an all-out effort in this reform and achieved breakthroughs on various fronts. The framework of reform has been established, and substantial results have been achieved in key areas.
In August 2015, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council issued the Implementation Plan for In-depth Institutional Reform in Science and Technology, which lists 143 reform tasks to be accomplished by 2020. We have to date completed more than 110. We have made substantive breakthroughs on a number of challenging issues which we had tried to tackle before but failed to solve. However, some outstanding problems still wait to be addressed, such as:
• low efficiency and capability in the national innovation system;
• scattered, duplicated, and ineffective allocation of scientific and technological resources;
• too many redundant projects, honorary title grants, and unnecessary institutions;
• poor returns from the input in science and technology;
• insufficient ability to convert research results into commercial applications and create business value;
• relatively slow progress in reforming research institutes, improving the mechanism that integrates science and technology with finance, and fostering innovative talent; and
• enthusiasm for original innovation yet to be fully aroused.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up. We must maintain firm resolve and courage to further reform in the new era. To reform science and technology, we should boldly address the most difficult problems, change our mindsets and remove all institutional barriers hindering scientific and technological innovation. As we have said, "Limits lead to changes; changes lead to solutions; solutions lead to development."4
Technological innovation should be accompanied by institutional innovation. Targeting existing problems and meeting actual needs, we will put more energy into improving institutional planning, policies, the general environment, and practices of innovation. We will devote a constant effort to fostering innovators, to enhancing the foundations and resources of innovation, and to creating a favorable environment, so as to increase our national strength in strategic science and technology and the overall efficiency and capability of the national innovation system. We will improve the top-level design for the technological innovation system, clarify the functions and positions of enterprises, universities and research institutes in the innovation chain, and arouse the enthusiasm and vitality of all parties. We will continue to transform the government's management of science and technology, and make full use of its organizational strength.
Enterprises play a leading role in innovation, and are the vital force for creation. Frederick Engels wrote in his letter to W. Borgius: "If society has a technical need, that helps science forward more than ten universities."5 We should encourage enterprises to take the lead in decision-making on technological innovation, investment in R&D, and implementation of research and application of findings, and cultivate a group of leading innovative enterprises that boast strong capabilities in core technologies and integrated innovation. We will make the most of the market in guiding the direction of and approaches to technological research, the price of production factors, and the allocation of innovation factors, so that the market can play the decisive role in allocating innovation resources. To spur on the development of new technologies, products and business models, we will improve long-term mechanisms for policy support, input of production factors, guarantees with incentive measures, and administrative services and supervision. We will speed up the application of innovations, and remove any barriers that block smooth progress from technological breakthroughs, product manufacturing, to commercial application and the emergence of an industrial chain.
We will build national labs to the highest standards, and make optimal overall plans for mega science initiatives, projects and centers, and international innovation bases. We will set up a science and technology decision-making mechanism that enables scientific consultation to support administrative decision-making, and give full play to the role of think tanks and specialized research institutes. This will help us improve decision-making mechanisms and capacity in science and technology. We will accelerate civil-military integration, improve the organization, management, operation, and policies of this work, and break down the barriers that hinder the engagement of civilian contractors in the defense industry or the civilian use of military technologies. We will intensify law enforcement in the field of intellectual property (IP) protection and improve IP services.
In my speech on science and technology on May 30, 2016, I emphasized that we would reform and innovate the ways we use and manage R&D funds, and let money serve creative activities rather than vice versa; we would also reform the appraisal system and establish a classification model to appraise the quality, contribution and performance of scientific and technological innovations and make a correct assessment of their scientific, technological, economic, social and cultural value. We have promulgated several important reform plans since then, including Plan for Further Reforming the Management of Scientific and Technological Programs (Special Projects, Funds and Other Undertakings) Funded by the Central Government, Guidelines on Further Improving the Policies for Managing the Funding of Central Government-funded Research Programs, Guidelines on Adopting Policies Oriented to Rewarding Knowledge, Guidelines on Advancing the Reform of the Personnel Appraisal Mechanism by Category, and Reform Plan for the Scientific and Technological Reward System. All of these have been welcomed by those working in the fields of science and technology. Concurrently, we also received feedback that these reform measures still have room for improvement, and certain measures have not yet been carried out. Relevant departments should heed with an open mind the opinions offered and continue to press forward with reform, so as to release creative activities from the restraints of unreasonable administrative systems such as those regulating fund management and performance appraisal.
Fourth, we should be deeply engaged in global scientific and technological governance, contributing Chinese wisdom and helping to build a global community of shared future. Science and technology respond to the call of the times and have a global impact, so we should have a global vision in developing them. Rivers and seas are big because they never reject the small streams that flow in. Independent innovation should be pursued in an open environment, rather than behind closed doors. We should gather energy and strength from every part of the world. We will enhance scientific and technological exchange and cooperation with other countries, and promote innovation on this basis. We will take the initiative in planning and actively utilize international innovation resources, and establish a cooperative and mutually beneficial partnership with other countries to cope with the future challenges facing humanity – development, food and energy security, health, and climate change. We will bring benefits to more countries and their people while achieving our own development, and promote balanced development around the world.
We should always embrace a global vision when planning and promoting scientific and technological innovation. We should bolster international cooperation, integrate China into the global innovation network, further open up national science and technology programs, participate in and play a leading role in international mega science plans and projects, and encourage our scientists to initiate and organize international scientific and technological cooperation. The Belt and Road Initiative should become an initiative of innovation: We will cooperate with other participating countries to build scientific and technological innovation alliances and bases, and create more opportunities and platforms for common development. We will use to the maximum global innovation resources, raise China's status in the global innovation landscape across the board, and increase our influence and ability to participate in rule-making in global scientific and technological governance.
Fifth, we should make human resources the priority in our development, and bring together our best achievers to lay a solid foundation for innovation-driven development. Feats are accomplished by capable people; undertakings proceed because of capable people. People are our most precious resource. All innovations are created by people. Both hard and soft power are fundamentally based on strength in human resources. The whole history of science and technology proves that the country with the most capable people and scientists will gain strengths in scientific and technological innovation. At present, China still lacks high-caliber innovative talent, especially talent that can spearhead scientific and technological development. Our talent appraisal system is flawed: It overemphasizes the number of theses scientists and engineers have published, their academic titles, and educational backgrounds; our scientists and engineers are deluged with appraisals and overburdened with the scramble for honorary titles; and our human resource management does not meet the needs of scientific and technological innovation or conform to the principles governing innovation. We will reform the appraisal mechanism, aiming to establish a system that highlights the innovative capability, innovation quality, and contribution of scientists and engineers, and create institutions that allow them to concentrate on their research and innovation. We should assess the performance of both individual researchers and their teams, respecting and recognizing the contribution of all members. We will improve the incentive system to ensure appropriate remuneration for outstanding scientists and engineers, so as to ignite the passion for innovation across society. Through reform, we will change the practice of permanently labeling talent by static appraisals, and of appraising talent with quantity of theses, patents or funds. Our scientists should not get mired in red tape or waste their precious time on redundant reports and applications.
Talented people are essential to innovation. We must expand the channels to build a large talent pool. We will create a favorable environment for innovation, and form effective training, hiring, incentive and competition mechanisms that can help talent to grow, to stand out and to give of their best, so that talented people will emerge in greater numbers from generation to generation. We should respect and develop talent, address structural problems in human resources, establish a multitiered human resource structure, and foster a large pool of world-class talent in strategic science and technology, leading scientists and engineers, young people of caliber, and innovation teams. We will increase investment in human resources, improve policies, create a favorable policy environment for innovation and start-ups, set up effective mechanisms to attract and employ talent, and finally bring about a situation where China attracts talented individuals from all over the world to work and compete in an innovative manner.
* Part of the speech at the joint session of the 19th Meeting of the Members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the 14th Meeting of the Members of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
1 Mohist Canon (Mo Jing) was one of the Mohist classics from the late Warring States Period (475-221 BC).
2 Sun Yat-sen: "Plan for National Reconstruction", Complete Works of Sun Yat-sen, Vol. I, Chin. ed., People's Publishing House, Beijing, 2015, p. 15.
3 Qu Yuan: "The Lament" (Li Sao). Qu Yuan (c. 339-278 BC) was a poet and statesman in the Warring States Period.
4 Book of Changes (Yi Jing).
5 Frederick Engels: "Engels to W. Borgius", Karl Marx & Frederick Engels: Collected Works, Vol. 50, Eng. ed., Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1979, p. 265.
(Not to be republished for any commercial or other purposes.)