China innovators

Don’t bog down scientists with red tape, says China’s premier

Li Keqiang says researchers should be given more freedom to carry out their research – without excessive bureaucracy – to help drive innovation on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 July, 2017, 3:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 July, 2017, 11:27pm

China’s Premier Li Keqiang has called for scientists to be given more freedom to operate in their research to help the country’s drive towards greater innovation as it tries to shift its economy away from cheap manufacturing and heavy industry.

Many scientists have complained that there were too many constraints on scientific projects from the government, especially over the management of funds, which was restricting researchers’ creativity, Li was quoted as saying in a statement on the central government’s website.

“[We] must create more space for scientists so that more vigour can be released,” said Li in comments made to a State Council meeting on Wednesday.

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The premier criticised officials drawing up plans and quotas for research programmes, requiring certain tasks to be done by a specific month.

“Which one of the major scientific discoveries in human history was made by planning? Even [Isaac] Newton himself couldn’t plan his discovery of gravity,” Li said.

The government should create a more tolerant environment for researchers, especially in studies that could affect the future course of human history, the premier added.

The government has previously pledged to streamline the management of research funds. The work has been delegated to professional bodies since last year instead of supervision by government agencies.

More than 40 government departments and nearly 100 programmes were previously involved in the management of scientific funds, according to the Minister of Science and Technology, Wan Gang.

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The National Bureau of Statistics said China spent 1.4 trillion yuan (US$206 billion) on research and development in 2015, up by nearly nine per cent from the previous year.

Of that, over 71 billion yuan, or five per cent, went to basic research, lower than most innovation driven economies whose ratio is above 10 per cent, the bureau said.