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China says it will ramp up efforts to bolster its professional workforce as it strives to become a technological powerhouse, but the undertaking is expected to take several years. Photo: Xinhua

US-China tech rivalry puts home-grown innovation ‘at the heart’ of modernisation drive, Xi Jinping vows

  • ‘Talent is the foremost resource’, and bolstering China’s pool of professionals will be more heavily prioritised in the coming years, according to Xi Jinping’s report to party cadres
  • Technological self-sufficiency and ‘winning the talent war’ are deemed critical steps toward gaining an upper hand as competition with US shows no sign of abating

President Xi Jinping is doubling down on the importance of technological self-sufficiency, innovation and education in China’s development plan, as the country has become embroiled in increasingly heated competition with the United States.

“Education, technology and talent provide fundamental and strategic support to China’s modernisation,” Xi said on Sunday when delivering his report to Communist Party elites at the opening ceremony of the 20th party congress – a pivotal political event that will unveil a new leadership line-up under Xi while presenting a road map for the country’s development over the next five years and beyond.

“[China] must insist that technology is the foremost productive force, that talent is the foremost resource, and that innovation is the foremost impetus,” says the report by Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party. “Innovation will remain at the heart of China’s modernisation drive.”

It lists “greater self-reliance and strength in science and technology” as being among the priorities for the coming five years – a crucial period as the nation strives to become a tech powerhouse by mid-century. The report also highlights the need to bolster China’s professional workforce and create a high-quality talent pool.

As it happened: China’s 20th Communist Party congress opens in Beijing

“[China must] perfect its technological innovation system, insist on innovation’s core position in the overall socialist modernisation … speed up the implementation of the strategy where innovation drives development … [and] gather momentum to make breakthroughs in leading original technologies,” the report adds.

It also vows that China will expedite its push to be a global hub for talent and innovation, as the nation’s talent-acquisition strategy is being challenged by fellow Asian economies such as Taiwan and Singapore – which have stepped up efforts to attract workers from around the world – and by Beijing’s stringent coronavirus controls under its zero-Covid policy.

The report comes as the US continues to ramp up its containment and restraint of China, especially in the technological sector, while identifying it as a dangerous superpower that is threatening to rewrite the rules and reshape the current order of global affairs in every aspect, including economics, technology, diplomacy, development and security.


Xi Jinping hails Hong Kong’s transition from 'chaos' to order in speech opening 20th party congress

Xi Jinping hails Hong Kong’s transition from 'chaos' to order in speech opening 20th party congress
In unveiling its long-awaited national security strategy on Wednesday, the administration of US President Joe Biden identified China as the “most consequential geopolitical challenge” facing America in the post-Cold War era.

“China harbours the intention and, increasingly, the capacity to reshape the international order in favour of one that tilts the global playing field to its benefit,” Biden said in the document’s introduction.

The US Department of Commerce also announced new export controls last week for China’s advanced semiconductor industry, including restrictions on the involvement of “US persons” in developing chip facilities in China, and on equipment and materials shipped to Chinese wafer fabrication plants that produce certain types of flash memory chips.

The emphasis on technology and innovation in Xi’s report reflects the necessity and urgency – as well as China’s determination – to become a global technological powerhouse, said Peng Peng, executive chairman of the Guangdong Society of Reform, a think tank connected to the provincial government.

‘Whole industry is targeted’: US throws Chinese chip firms into uncertainty

“The United States is ramping up its clampdown, and China can’t get around it, so it is essential to increase investment in science and technology, insist on making breakthroughs in areas contained by the US, attach importance to cultivating scientific and technological talents, and continue the protection of intellectual property rights,” Peng said.

Xie Maosong, a senior fellow at the Taihe Institute think tank and a senior researcher at the National Institute of Strategic Studies at Tsinghua University, said there are “signals that Beijing is reviewing the problems in its talent-selection and -retention mechanisms”, in light of the intensifying competition with the US.

“The US-China rivalry started as a trade war, but soon evolved into a tech war,” Xie explained. “But, fundamentally, winning the talent war is the only way to get an upper hand in the long-term competition.”

Xi’s report indeed puts the onus on China to prioritise education and “focus on training top innovative talent” while also gathering “global talents to contribute to China”.


China condemns new US law aimed at boosting domestic semiconductor manufacturing

China condemns new US law aimed at boosting domestic semiconductor manufacturing

Xi pledged late last year that China would “exhaust all means” to recruit innovative professionals from around the world to bolster its technological innovation, but that effort appears to have hit a few roadblocks as China’s relationship with the US worsens, and as Beijing’s stringent coronavirus-control measures have impeded the path of foreign talent into the country.

With US-China relations likely to become increasingly defined by security concerns in the near future, China’s reaction will be to channel more resources toward self-reliance in critical technologies, so as to reduce its external vulnerabilities, according to Tan Yeling, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oregon and a non-resident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“Whether or not it can succeed in doing so remains to be seen,” she added.

Additional reporting by William Zheng