US technology embargo list gives China a blueprint for home-grown innovation over the next decade, top science official says
- Beijing’s upcoming five-year plan for the nation will detail technology ambitions, outlining areas and products that it must take into its own hands
- President of top science institution says China must ‘concentrate all of our resources’ to avoid falling behind in technological advancements
China’s top science and technology official says the central government is viewing Washington’s list of embargoed or controlled technologies to China as an outline for what to focus on over the next decade, reflecting Beijing’s strategy of enhancing domestic research to cut reliance on American technologies.
“The US’ technological containment list will be our mission for scientific and technological development,” Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said at a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
The aim is to avoid “being strangled” technologically, he said. “We must focus on core technologies, key materials, techniques and basic algorithms, and take the initiative in areas such as mask aligners [which produce integrated circuits], tyres [for aircraft] and high-end chips.”
Bai’s academy is at forefront of China’s efforts to utilise all of the country’s scientific resources to counter the United States. In 2018, it initiated so-called Category C projects, defined as those in collaboration with enterprises to circumvent technology containment efforts, such as in supercomputing systems and cybersecurity.
Five projects were started last year, focusing on computer chips and software, electromagnetic technology, high-end bearing steel, and multilingual audio research.
Xi said at a symposium last week that the country needed scientific solutions to a number of “practical problems” more than ever before. “For technologies where there can be imminent breakthroughs and solutions, you must quickly move forward; for strategic technologies that take time, you must deploy resources in advance,” he told the country’s top scientists.
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“We’ll focus on areas that the country is concerned with the most and concentrate all of our resources,” Bai said.
The science academy is currently regrouping its more than 100 affiliated institutions to spur innovation, while groups have been established to shoulder specific strategic tasks, he noted.
Although China was ranked No 14 in the 2020 Global Innovation Index released by World Intellectual Property Organisation earlier this month, two places ahead of Japan and 11 places behind the United States, questions have been raised as to how quickly China can reduce its reliance on Western technologies and find domestic replacements.
The academy now runs three universities – in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Hefei – and will soon open another one in Shenzhen, a city regarded as China’s Silicon Valley and which accommodates some of the nation’s leading technology innovators, including Huawei, Tencent and drone maker DJI.