Independent innovation the main driving force for China’s sustainable development，
“If one can be innovative for a day, he should keep it up day by day, and constantly push for new frontiers.” This ancient Chinese wisdom is often quoted by Chinese leaders when talking about innovation. For thousands of years, China has been marked by indigenous innovation, which serves as the inspiration and motivator for its people to seek new development and progress.
The illustration of the world’s first quantum satellite “Micius” [Photo: VCG]
Historically, ancient China led the world in astronomy, time keeping, sea navigation, mathematics and military strategy, on top of the most notable “four great inventions,” namely paper making, the compass, gunpowder and printing techniques. In modern times, due to colonial aggression and a decline in the economy, China began to lack behind in science and technology development. However, after the founding of the republic in 1949, against a harsh international situation, including economic and technological blockades by western countries, China developed and tested its own atomic and hydrogen bombs and launched its first artificial satellites in the 1960s and 1970s.
The “Jiaolong” deep-sea submersible on display at Wangfujing in Beijing [Photo: VCG]
Ever since the country’s reform and opening-up began 40 years ago, the country’s innovative spirit has been further enhanced. In recent years, guided by the strategy of seeking innovation-driven development, there has been a series of explosive scientific and technological advancements, including the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST, the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope based in Guizhou; the dark matter detection satellite, “Wukong,” which gets its name from the Chinese name for the Monkey King; and the world’s first quantum satellite, Micius, which is named after a fifth century B.C. Chinese philosopher and scientist.
The C919, China’s first self-developed large passenger plane [Photo: VCG]
China’s new achievements also include the “Jiaolong” deep-sea submersible; the C919, China’s first self-developed large passenger plane; world-leading technology developments in high-speed rail, plus an extensive national high-speed railway network; the successful collection of samples of combustible ice from below the South China Sea and the development of high-yield saline soil rice. Alipay and WeChat have created a cashless environment for transactions and consumption in China.
Technological improvements contributed 57.5 percent to China’s economic growth in 2017, which is already close to the target of 60 percent set by the government by 2020. Chinese researchers made 1.38 million invention patent applications in 2017, a 14.2 percent increase year on year. Spending on research and development also grew faster in 2017. R&D spending rose 11.6 percent year-on-year to 1.75 trillion yuan (about 280 billion U.S. dollars), accounting for 2.12 percent of China’s gross domestic product last year. The amount of scientific papers tabled by Chinese scientists has ranked number 2 in the world for nine consecutive years. China is among the top 20 most-innovative economies in the annual Global Innovation Index (GII) ranking published in July by Cornell University and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Switzerland retained its top place this year, followed by the Netherlands and Sweden. China climbed to 17th from 22nd place last year.
China launched the world’s first quantum satellite “Micius” successfully. [Photo: VCG]
Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chair of the World Economic Forum, recently said that future competition will not be based on the ability to produce with low costs, but rather, determined by being first in adapting to and adopting new innovative products and services. He says he believes that China will certainly take the lead in this regard. The US National Science Foundation has also issued a report saying China now sits behind only the United States in research and development. China’s R&D expenditures are now close to the total amount spent among all the countries in the European Union combined.
In practice, China has relied on independent innovation in pursuit of new breakthroughs in science and technology that will support economic development. The strengthened national economy will, in turn, make the funding of major sci-tech projects possible. The government, companies and institutes have joined hands in making sure that the advancement in sci-tech innovation feeds into industrial development and helps improve the lives of the people.
One typical example is China’s Beidou satellite navigation system. The system used to rely on imports for its chips, modules and software. Now, its key components are all domestically made. These same products have been exported to over 80 countries and regions.
Despite leading the world in many industries, China still relies heavily on imports for jet engines and chips. The level of economic development and technological advancement is also not balanced within the country itself. World-leading science journal “Nature” has an index to evaluate the output of basic research by nations or institutes. Since 2012, China has been ranked second on the index, but reaching only half of the level of the United States. This shows there is still great potential for China to move up further in innovation.
In this increasingly globalized world, no nation can solve all its innovation problems by itself. While pursuing independent innovation, China is also willing to work closely with other countries to advance science and technology for a better future for humanity. In May of this year, President Xi Jinping called on leading Chinese scientists to unwaveringly carry out independent innovation and integrate into the global innovation network. He also said in a congratulatory letter to the opening of the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai last month that China is ready to work with other countries in the field of AI to jointly promote development, safeguard security and share results.