US-China tech war
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Chinese lawmakers are updating a law promoting technological progress for the second time, adding language that gives the government an enhanced role in the development of advanced tech like semiconductors. Photo: Shutterstock

US-China tech war: ‘tech progress’ law to be amended to emphasise state’s role in innovation, add support for women

  • The proposed amendments provide a legal framework to boost spending on ‘frontier technologies’ like artificial intelligence and semiconductors
  • This is only the second time the 1993 law has been amended, and marks a shift from the 2007 changes that emphasised more corporate engagement

China’s legislature is updating the country’s science and technology progress law to provide a legal framework for the state to spend lavishly on frontier areas as the country seeks leadership of next-generation technologies.

National lawmakers on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress have concluded a second-round review of the law and endorsed 14 updates, according to a report published on Tuesday in Science and Technology Daily, a newspaper affiliated with China’s science ministry.

The changes include clauses mandating that the state spend to advance areas of “key fundamental research, frontier technologies with huge application potential, as well as research with social significance,” Cong Bin, a lawmaker, was quoted as saying.

China to gain on US in core 21st century technologies within next decade

This is the second set of changes to the law since it took effect in 1993 – the first amendment was in 2007 – as Beijing has accelerated efforts to become independent in key technologies. A renewed sense of urgency is partly the result of US sanctions that have restricted access to certain advanced technologies that include semiconductors and artificial intelligence.

The Chinese government has shown concern that the country could be left behind, despite some signs that its industrial policies are bearing fruit in these areas. Last week, a report published by the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, at the Harvard Kennedy School, argued that China is in a position to become the global leader over the next decade in critical technologies, including artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
In recent years, China’s top leadership has increasingly called for more state support to advance science and technology. In a call to action to scientists in May, President Xi Jinping said during a speech that China should be prepared for “unprecedented” scientific and technological competition, which has become the “the main battleground” of a global power rivalry.

In contrast to the changes made in 2007, which encouraged corporate engagement and increasing fiscal inputs in scientific and technological innovation, the ongoing revision places more emphasis on the government’s role in aiding “long-term science and technology planning”.


US sanctions DJI and 7 other Chinese companies over alleged Xinjiang human rights abuses

US sanctions DJI and 7 other Chinese companies over alleged Xinjiang human rights abuses

The update promotes “stimulating the innovation vitality of researchers and accelerating the formation of a strategic talent force”. It also includes language to “support the nation’s carbon neutrality goal”, “let leading tech companies fully play a role in driving innovation” and “let national laboratories lead lab research”, Cong was quoted as saying.

The new draft calls for more incentives for tech personnel, as well, saying they should be given more “equity, options, dividends and other” forms of encouragement to help innovation and attract talent.

Another addition calls for more support for female researchers, who have long been sidelined in science and technology. Government-run research departments should “improve assessments of and incentive mechanisms for female tech personnel, care for those in the maternity stage, and encourage them to play a bigger role in science and tech progress”.