Bill Gates given one of China’s highest academic honours
Microsoft chief elected to Chinese Academy of Engineering because of work to develop advanced nuclear technology
Bill Gates, the tech billionaire who co-founded Microsoft, has been given one of China’s highest academic honours – an accolade which is mostly reserved for top scientists and engineers.
Gates was the only non-academic foreigner hand-picked by the Chinese Academy of Engineering for lifetime membership of the 815-member body from a pool of 533 candidates, the organisation announced on Monday.
New academicians are selected every two years from academic institutions, research institutes, enterprises and hospitals, both inside and outside China.
The CAE – which falls under the State Council, China’s top governing body – also has a role advising Beijing on the country’s economic and social development, and its new members need to have “strict political clearance”.
Foreigners are eligible for membership if they have contributed to the development of or played an important role in promoting China’s engineering, science, and technology, the CAE said on its website.
The academy said Gates was elected to the academy for his role as founder and chairman of Washington-based nuclear power company TerraPower, which recently announced a partnership with the China National Nuclear Corporation to develop an advanced nuclear reactor.
The joint project is expected to begin next year, aiming to design and build nuclear power plants that generate 1,150 megawatts over the next 20 years.
The US business magnate has met Chinese President Xi Jinping on various occasions, and discussed further nuclear energy cooperation with Premier Li Keqiang earlier this month.
China has invested heavily in scientific development in recent years, as it seeks to become a global scientific powerhouse.
The academy’s selection of foreign members is part of this effort to strengthen China’s presence and influence in engineering, science, and technology, the organisation said on its website.
The academy also pledged to continue studying and implementing the “spirit” of the 19th Party Congress, a phrase trotted out frequently by state media after the event in October, which saw Xi consolidate his grip on power.
Apart from Gates, the other 17 newly inducted foreign scholars included mechanical engineering professor Shixin Jack Hu from the University of Michigan; Stephen P Boyd, an electrical engineer from Stanford University; and Zhengzhou University’s Nicholas Robert Lemoine, dean of the academy of medical sciences. Forty-nine new Chinese members were also selected.
There were already 76 foreigners in the academy, including Nobel laureates such as Robert H Grubbs, from the California Institute of Technology, and Paul Nurse, from the Francis Crick Institute.
British scientist Joseph Needham, known for his historical chronicling of Chinese science and technology, was also a member until his death in 1995.
Membership of the body is a badge of honour for Chinese scientists. Its members are asked to be cautious about accepting public titles and urged to turn down “offers with excessively high or inappropriate material benefits”.
Attempts to contact Gates and Microsoft on Monday were unsuccessful and TerraPower said it was unable to comment immediately.