Hu says self-reliance vital for scientific development

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2008, 12:00am

President makes strong plea for Chinese creativity

President Hu Jintao addressed mainland scientific leaders yesterday, underlining the need for self-reliance as the country begins to elbow into the higher-end global market and take on the challenges of technologically more advanced countries.

'[We] must stick to developing our own capabilities to create,' Mr Hu told a gathering of nearly 1,500 members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

To underscore the leadership's support, all top leaders - except Vice-President Xi Jinping , who is on an overseas tour - attended yesterday's meeting.

'Creativity builds the core of national competitiveness. Sovereignty and self-reliance, no matter how situations change ... are the most important pillars supporting the rise of our nation's science and technology,' Mr Hu said.

'The core technology making the veins and pulse of our economy and national security can only be set up through our own effort and advanced by our own creativity. We must place the development of self-reliance on top of the agenda.

'We are ready for a fight to control the scientific high ground and earn a seat on the world's high-technology board, and we will make some serious efforts to strengthen our nation's competence.'

Mr Hu's comments were much stronger than those he made at the same event two years ago, when he focused on the need to import overseas talent and engage in international co-operation. Back then, he said 'drawing experience and talent from overseas is equally important to self-reliance' and urged mainland scientists to set up co-operative laboratories and research institutes and foster joint research and development programmes.

Analysts differed on whether the change in the tone of Mr Hu's speeches signalled a shift in the central government's R&D policy.

Wang Hengdong, a senior researcher at the mainland-based International Strategic Relations Research Centre, said a number of failed attempts to acquire overseas companies and participate in large science projects overseas, especially in the United States, had convinced the leadership that it was difficult to convert the rhetoric of multinational co-operation into practice.

'The international space station programme, a civilian project that aims to benefit the entire human race, does not welcome us, though we have money and talent and are technologically superior to many member states; the acquiring of Unocal which failed because of protectionism; and the discrimination against Lenovo's notebook computers produced in the United States...the list goes on,' Professor Wang said.

'Therefore we must set out to establish our own space station, super computer, superconductor, genetic sequencing, particle collider, digital machine tools and robots that will one day drive many imported products out of China and be sold around the world. We can't be making shirts and boots forever.'

But Li Naihu, director of French nuclear company Areva's Shanghai-based technology centre, said the central government's desire for overseas technology had not cooled.

'The government has been supporting our research and development work consistently,' Dr Li said. 'We have been enjoying a 15 per cent tax cut and low tariffs when importing laboratory equipment. I don't think that policy is going to change.'

Meeting of minds

Members of the mainland's scientific community attend the academicians' conference in the Great Hall of the People yesterday, where President Hu Jintao urged them to develop self-reliance in the sector