Beijing lays out road map for scientific revolution

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2006, 12:00am

Beijing yesterday outlined an ambitious plan to close the gap with developed countries and transform the nation into a leading technological power.

The blueprint rolls out a list of targets for the next 15 years, including gradually increasing investment in research and development to 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product and capping the reliance on foreign technology at 30 per cent.

The plan also calls for China to become one of the top five nations leading scientific innovation with a comparable number of citations in international scientific research papers; and domestically developing a large and diverse team of world-class scientists.

Jia Kang, a Ministry of Finance official who participated in the drafting, said 2.5 per cent of GDP would translate into 900 billion yuan a year by 2020, up substantially from just more than 1 per cent of GDP in 2004, and in line with what developed countries spend.

Minister of Science and Technology Xu Guanhua was quoted by Xinhua as saying that despite its huge economic size, China 'has yet to become an economic power because of its poor ability to innovate'.

He said the blueprint identified many areas of research that required focus, especially space projects, information technology, genetic engineering, nuclear technology, national defence and energy conservation.

The 45,000-word report, 'National and Long-term Science and Technology Development Outline', comes a month ahead of the National People's Congress' annual conference and amid growing tension arising from economic disparity at home and the quest for resources abroad.

The current leadership, packed with trained engineers, clearly feels advances in science and technology hold the key to China's sustainable development.

'[Making] science and technology the core of competitiveness has increasingly become the focus of competition between countries. Our country has entered a historical ... stage that will rely more on scientific advancements and innovations to propel economic and social development,' a Xinhua commentary said.

'It will help promote the spirit of this era which holds patriotism, nationalism, reform and innovations as core values, and boost national confidence and solidarity.'

In a significant departure from the state-led incentive to boost scientific development, the blueprint - which took more than 2,000 scientists more than a year to write - said enterprises would be the engine driving the R&D push.

China is to hoping to nurture a batch of top-500 R&D companies and help hi-tech firms compete in the world market.

The government would provide support and guidance for commercial enterprises to achieve breakthroughs in R&D, create a conducive business environment through introducing tax breaks, and encourage integration of civilian and military technological innovations, the blueprint said.

Authorities were hoping a large number of small- and medium-sized companies with strong R&D and market competitiveness would emerge by 2010.

These companies, the central government hopes, will help develop cutting-edge technology in such areas as information technology, exploration and conservation of energy, the agriculture sector, medicine and medical equipment and the military, which allows China to 'meet its needs to produce and research its own weapons and military information systems'.

The blueprint also highlights the importance of improving the nation's technical capacity to handle emergencies such as coal mine explosions, chemical leaks and even biochemical attacks.

China sees its development priorities in 11 main sectors:

Energy, Water & mining resources, Environment, Agriculture, Manufacturing, Communications & transport, Information industry & modern service industries, Urbanisation & urban development, Population & health, Public security, National defence

What it will cost China:

In 2004, total R&D spending was 1.23% of GDP; most developed countries average about 2% (see table)

By 2010, total R&D spending has been set at 2% of GDP

By 2020, total R&D spending is expected to be at least 2.5% of GDP, equivalent to over 900 billion yuan

Reliance on foreign technology by 2020 will fall to below 30%, with the number of Chinese-generated patents and citations in international research journals among the top five in the world annually

China has imported almost 50,000 items of technology with a contracted value of over US$100 billion since 1999. In 2005 alone, China paid US$11.8 billion in technology fees, according to the Ministry of Commerce