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Driving High-Quality Development Through Greater Self-reliance and Strength in Science and Technology

By Wang Zhigang Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2023-11-14

Achieving high-quality development is the primary task in building a modern socialist country and an essential requirement of Chinese modernization. To accomplish this task, we must regard science and technology (S&T) as our primary productive force, talent as our primary resource, and innovation as our primary driver of growth. We must make S&T innovation an integral element of overall economic and social development and cultivate new engines for sustainable growth. 

I. Fast-tracking progress toward greater self-reliance and strength in S&T is the sole path to high-quality development

At present, China has completed the transition from a phase of rapid growth to one of high-quality development, making the pivot from expanding quantity to enhancing quality. Indeed, high-quality development is the prevailing theme of China’s economic and social development for the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025) and beyond, with an important bearing on the country’s overall socialist modernization drive. As China enters a new stage of development, strong self-reliance and strength in S&T must serve as the core catalyst for high-quality development and provide fundamental and strategic support in building a great modern socialist country.


Lunar dust chamber at the Space Environment Simulation and Research Infrastructure (SESRI), Harbin Institute of Technology, Heilongjiang Province, April 6, 2023. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER WANG SONG

An essential requirement for accelerating the creation of a new development dynamic

The history of human development shows that S&T innovation is an inexhaustible driving force behind the development of a country or nation as well as a key factor for enhancing productivity. With an emphasis on developing the real economy, we have made great efforts to foster a new development dynamic that is focused on the domestic economy and features positive interplay between domestic and international economic flows. In this process, we urgently need to leverage S&T innovation as an engine and pathbreaker to provide powerful momentum for the modern industrial system. We must draw on S&T innovation to expand and upgrade the supply system, promote the rapid application and iterative upgrading of new technologies on a large scale, and tap into enormous potential demand. We must boost the dynamism and reliability of the domestic economy, enhance both our position and capacity in the global economy, and facilitate smooth domestic and international economic flows, so as to seize the initiative in promoting high-quality development. On one hand, greater self-reliance and strength in S&T will provide the focus, underpinning, and new room for growth necessary to foster a new development dynamic and promote high-quality development. On the other hand, it will also allow us to utilize the latest S&T innovations to achieve intensive growth and fully act on the goals for achieving high-quality development in line with the new development philosophy.

A key move to respond to major risks and challenges

As momentous changes on a scale not seen in a century unfold at an accelerated pace, we have witnessed a backlash against economic globalization, frequent flare-ups of regional conflicts, and a significant shift in the international balance of power. In a new period of turbulence and change, S&T innovation has become a decisive factor affecting the interests of all sides in strategic interactions. It is fair to say that greater self-reliance and strength in S&T is not only an issue of development, but a matter of survival. Therefore, we must make S&T innovation a cornerstone and critical force in our push to realize national rejuvenation. We must accelerate the development of a strong technological foundation for high-quality development to ensure the security and stability of industrial and supply chains and maintain the initiative in development.

An inevitable choice for seizing opportunities in the new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation

Throughout history, every revolutionary breakthrough in the S&T domain has triggered remarkable adjustments in the productive forces, production relations, and international landscape. Currently, with a new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation gaining pace, a paradigm shift is taking place in research. Led by artificial intelligence (AI), next-generation information technology is driving the integration of multiple cutting-edge technologies, bringing about a chain-like revolution in which multiple breakthroughs occur simultaneously. As technological innovation reaches further and deeper with greater speed and precision, a period of unprecedented intensity and dynamism has dawned for global technological innovation, with innovation chains becoming more nimble and disruptive innovations emerging in a continuous stream. Around the world, countries have rushed to formulate forward-looking plans for new areas and arenas in a competition of unparalleled intensity for the high ground in the latest science and technologies. Against this backdrop, we must adeptly grasp and take advantage of opportunities arising from the new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation and bolster our ability to plan strategically and respond quickly to technological innovations. Only in this way can we seize the initiative for future development, stay one step ahead amid intense international competition, and turn the decisive factor of technological innovation into the biggest driver of high-quality development.

II. New S&T advances serve as the material and technological foundations for high-quality development 

Thanks to the innovation-driven development strategy, China’s strength in strategic S&T has grown, important S&T advances have emerged at an accelerated pace, and the reform of S&T systems has been further advanced. All this has helped elevate our country’s S&T capabilities to a new level. In 2022, R&D investment in China surpassed the 3 trillion mark for the first time, with the ratio to GDP reaching 2.55%. Such input has brought about a number of breakthroughs in core technologies in key fields, providing a powerful boost to strategic emerging industries and China’s strength in strategic S&T as a whole. As a result, China has climbed to the 11th in the Global Innovation Index, joining the ranks of the world’s innovators. With this new position in the global S&T innovation landscape, China is fulfilling a more important role as it participates in the frontier of global S&T innovation and makes great contributions to the resolution of global issues with a bearing on humanity’s future and development.

Source of momentum for high-quality development

Combining a goal-oriented approach with free explorations, China has devoted growing resources to basic research and original innovation and thus produced a stream of original advances with global influence in cutting-edge areas, including quantum information, stem cells, brain science, and neuromorphic chips. More robust planning in new strategic arenas has seen China keeping pace with advanced international levels in AI, mobile communications, and other frontier fields. With the debut of the quantum computer prototypes Jiuzhang and Zuchongzhi, China has maintained a leading position in supercomputing. A host of world-class S&T infrastructure facilities, including the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) and China Spallation Neutron Source (CSNS), have been put into operation and are playing a crucial role. Thanks to major breakthroughs in the manned spaceflight program, Chang’e lunar exploration program, Tianwen Mars exploration mission, the artificial sun project, BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), and the 10,000-meter sea trials of the deepsea manned submersible Striver, China has firmly seized the high ground in deep space, deep sea, and other strategic high-tech sectors in a demonstration of its composite national strength.   

Robust support for a modern industrial system 

To build a dynamic modern industrial system, it is necessary to foster integration between the innovation and industrial chains by promoting coordination between every link from basic research, applied basic research, and technological innovation to the industrial application and market operation of S&T advances. 

Thanks to breakthroughs in core technologies in key fields, China has made headway in modernizing traditional industries and cultivating strategic emerging industries. Its independently developed large aircraft has been put into commercial operation; a high-speed maglev prototype train, with a designed top speed of 600 km per hour, has rolled off the production line; and China’s standards have become an international benchmark for high-speed rail construction. In addition, technologies for high-performance equipment, intelligent robots, additive manufacturing, and laser manufacturing have facilitated major upgrades to “Made in China” products. With the implementation of major S&T programs, key technologies and equipment have been developed to underpin the construction of major engineering projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, Beijing Daxing International Airport, and Sichuan-Xizang Railway. China is a world leader in clean and efficient coal technologies, new nuclear power, and ultrahigh voltage transmission. It is the world’s largest hydrogen producer and boasts the largest installed capacity and energy storage capacity of photovoltaic and wind power. Deep Sea No.1, China’s first self-operated 1,500-meter deep-water gas field, has begun production. Such progress has provided a robust guarantee for China’s national energy security. More and more application scenarios have also been provided for new products and technologies. As a result, China has become the first country to achieve large-scale application of 5G and remained a global leader in the output and sales of new energy vehicles for eight consecutive years. The scale of its industries associated with photoelectronic technology comprises nearly half of the global total, and it accounts for close to 30% of all AI application in the global market.

Strong guarantee for a high standard of living 

S&T innovation has empowered us in the critical fight to prevent and control pollution and build a beautiful China. To date, China has built 11 innovation demonstration zones for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It has taken the lead in reclaiming desertified land and made fresh progress in using S&T to move toward its peak carbon and carbon neutrality goals. These accomplishments represent China’s contribution to global green development. More than 200 technological outcomes from the High-tech Winter Olympics program have been put into practice, generating notable economic and social returns. Continuous breakthroughs have been made in key agricultural technologies concerning land, staple food crops, and the seed industry, ensuring national food security. In implementing the S&T specialist dispatch system, nearly one million S&T specialists have been assigned to rural areas to lend impetus to rural revitalization. 

To combat Covid-19 in a scientific way, China launched a host of emergency research projects revolving around origin tracing, therapeutics, vaccine, and medication, waging a successful battle against the pandemic. It has established 50 national clinical research centers for key clinical specialties including cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, respiratory, and metabolic diseases as well as cancer, to make sure that technical systems for early examination, screening, diagnosis, and treatment of these diseases are updated on an ongoing basis. It has also broken the monopoly of foreign patented drugs in the prevention and treatment of cancer, leukemia, and drug-resistant bacteria. An array of domestically produced high-end medical equipment and devices have been put into use, such as the heavy ion accelerator, as well as MRI, color Doppler ultrasound, and CT scanners. These achievements serve as solid foundations for the Healthy China initiative.

Driving force for high-quality regional development

By building Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area into influential global S&T innovation hubs, China aims to establish the most open and innovative demonstration zones possible with the most abundant supply of S&T advances and talent, in a bid to further bolster the innovative capacities of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, Yangtze River Delta, and Pan-Pearl River Delta regions. In the 2022 Global Innovation Index, Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai-Suzhou respectively ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 6th in the top 10 of global S&T clusters.

In developing innovative provinces and cities as well as reform pilot zones for comprehensive innovation, China has come up with practical approaches that can be applied across the rest of the country. S&T innovation capabilities along the Yangtze River Economic Belt and Yellow River Basin have been steadily enhanced. China has pressed ahead with regional collaborative innovation and development, making new strides in innovation cooperation across the eastern, central, and western regions. For instance, the schemes to provide S&T support for the development of Xinjiang, Xizang, Qinghai, Ningxia, Yunnan, Inner Mongolia, and Guizhou have facilitated innovation in the western region. The S&T initiative to bolster the revitalization of the northeast region is also well under way, with cooperation between the northeast region and innovative cities along the southeast coast in full swing.

Basic establishment of fundamental institutions underpinning S&T innovation

The amended Law on Progress of Science and Technology has been promulgated, and 143 tasks concerning structural S&T reform have been completed to a high standard, with impressive, substantive reform outcomes delivered in key areas and links.


A visitor photographs a model of the Jiuzhang quantum computer prototype at the second China (Anhui) Science and Technology Innovation Achievement Transformation Fair, April 26, 2023. The theme of this year’s fair was “promoting full integration of innovation, industry, capital, and talent chains and boosting industrial application of scientific and technological advances.” PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER HUANG BOHAN

The national systems for consultation on major S&T decisions, governance over S&T ethics, and promotion of research integrity have operated effectively. Reforms have been advanced to develop a management approach for scientific research funds that is centered on credibility and performance. We have steadily worked to refine policies on certification for high-tech enterprises and preferential taxation for corporate income from technology transfers. The ratio of the additional tax deduction for R&D expenses has been increased to 100% for small and medium-sized technological enterprises and manufacturing enterprises. We have improved the whole-of-chain mechanism for cultivating outstanding S&T innovators with a view to nurturing leading talent through major S&T programs and supporting young scientists and technologists in playing a pivotal role. We have enacted income distribution policies oriented toward increasing the value of knowledge and expanded the decision-making power of innovators. These efforts have enabled us to foster a flourishing culture of innovation, encourage dedication to science, and create an enabling environment for encouraging, supporting, and participating in innovation in our society.

III. Opening new areas and arenas for high-quality development and fostering new growth drivers and advantages through greater S&T self-reliance and strength

Reinforcing the overall coordination of S&T work in line with the strategic goal of high-quality development 

We must strengthen the CPC’s unified leadership over S&T work and properly attend to top-level design and overall coordination in this work. We need to coordinate strategic planning and make well-conceived arrangements for strategic goals, major policies and projects, medium- and long-term plans, and annual plans, creating a comprehensive blueprint to follow through to the end. We will better allocate resources for innovation, steadily enhancing coordination with regard to innovation entities, resources, and environment, as well as S&T funds, talent teams, and research infrastructure, in a bid to boost the overall performance of China’s innovation system. We will also strengthen the overall coordination of S&T policies. Focused on greater S&T self-reliance and strength, we will work out specific and pragmatic measures in accordance with the CPC’s decisions on this work and develop a systematic S&T policy framework through these measures.

Bolstering national strategic S&T forces to boost the dynamism of high-quality development

Targeting the strategic needs, major innovation areas, and long-term development of our country, we will accelerate the construction of national laboratories and the reorganization of key state laboratories, better define the roles of national research institutes, advanced-level research universities, and leading high-tech enterprises to refine their layout, improve the national S&T infrastructure platform, and establish collaborative mechanisms to facilitate national strategic S&T forces in fulfilling their duties and complementing each other’s strengths. In doing so, we will give full play to the guiding role of national laboratories, the organizational role of national research institutes, the role of high-level research universities as a major force, and the role of leading high-tech enterprises in defining tasks, working out solutions, and assessing outcomes through commercial application. By reinforcing the principal role of enterprises in S&T innovation, we will support their wider participation in major national scientific research tasks and promote the industrial application of S&T advances, so as to lay a solid S&T foundation for promoting high-quality development.

Implementing major scientific research projects to strengthen control over industrial and supply chains 

We must plan in a more farsighted, strategic, and systematic fashion to facilitate organized progress in basic research that is focused on strategy-oriented systems, cutting-edge explorations, and market-oriented applications. Advancing research on core technologies in key areas, we must make every effort to address S&T challenges with a bearing on overall national development and long-term interests, so as to guarantee China’s industrial, economic, and national security at a fundamental level. Adopting a scenario-driven roadmapping approach to scientific research, commercialization of outcomes, and cultivation of industries, we will expedite the R&D and application of frontier technologies for new energy, AI, biomanufacturing, green and low-carbon industries, and quantum computing, in an effort to foster new drivers of growth. To meet China’s strategic needs, we will speed up our efforts to launch major projects for the Sci-Tech Innovation 2030 Agenda, laying down our strategic planning for future S&T innovation development.  

Amplifying the stimulative effects of regional innovation by establishing pacesetters for high-quality development

Based on China’s major regional development strategies, we will coordinate the development of international and regional centers for S&T innovation and encourage more places to follow in their footsteps toward innovation-driven development. In order to nurture internationally leading innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems, we will tap the guiding role of our three global S&T innovation hubs (Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area) to bring together technological innovations from the world’s cutting-edge scientific fields and emerging industries as well as global factors for scientific and technological innovation, and promote high-quality development of national innovation demonstration zones and high-tech industrial development zones. We will improve the mechanisms for collaborative innovation across regions, working to enhance the alignment of industries and resources to achieve complementary and collaborative regional development.

Furthering structural S&T reform to foster an enabling environment for innovation

In order to boost effective S&T investment, we will advance the reform of the allocation and use of government research funds, increase investment in S&T through diverse channels, and carry out reform measures pertaining to the appraisal of S&T advances and rewards and incentives for researchers. Adhering to the principle that innovation is powered by talent, we will strive to foster first-class innovators, speeding up building a contingent of personnel with expertise of strategic importance and to unleash their vitality and potential. This will see China cultivating greater numbers of highly competent scientists and technologists who dedicate themselves to the country, serve the people, and dare to reach for new heights. We will also promote the scientists’ spirit and professional academic conduct.

Establishing a high-level system for open S&T cooperation to draw together resources for innovative development from around the world 

By proactively integrating into the global innovation network, we will pursue a more open, inclusive, and mutually beneficial strategy for international S&T cooperation, so as to steadily raise our capacity for independent innovation and consolidate the foundation for international cooperation. With more open thinking and measures, we will continuously expand the depth and breadth of international S&T cooperation, harness China’s S&T capabilities to play a more influential role in global innovation governance, and better make China’s voice heard in the rulemaking process for global innovation. We will build a leading system of standards for new technologies and industries and work to see more Chinese industrial and technological standards becoming global universal ones. Making efforts to take the lead in launching international Big Science research plans and projects, China will contribute its wisdom to solving global issues, cultivate an internationalized environment for research, and create an open and globally competitive innovation ecosystem.

Wang Zhigang is former Minister of Science and Technology.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 16, 2023)