Innovation and China’s Global Emergence

edited by Erik Baark, Bert Hofman, and Jiwei Qian

ISBN: 978-981-325-148-9

published August 2021

Or read this open access web edition

Chapter 6

China’s International S&T Relations:
From Self-Reliance to Active Global Engagement

Denis Fred Simon

“Only if core technologies are in our own hands can we truly hold the initiative in competition and development. Only then can we fundamentally ensure our national economic security, defence security and other aspects of security … On the traditional competition field of international development, the rules were set by other people … To seize the great opportunities in the new scientific-technological revolution and industrial transformation, we must enter early on while the new competition field is being built, and even dominate some of the construction of the competition field, so we become a major designer of the new rules of competition and a leader in the new field.”

PRC President Xi Jinping, Speech to the Chinese Academy of Sciences/Chinese Academy of Engineering, Beijing, June 2014


The above statement by Chinese President Xi Jinping could not have been more prescient as just three short years later, China found itself embroiled in both a deleterious “trade war” and destructive “technology war” with the United States and several of America’s allies. Under the former administration of President Donald Trump, the US attempted to constrain Chinese access to America’s advanced technological know-how and even to limit the access of PRC students and scholars to American universities and research institutes. While China has sought to maintain its commitment to global engagement and the open policy launched under Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, the US—on both a unilateral and a multilateral basis—has sought to disengage with China and in essence slow down the pace of Chinese technological advance. These developments underscore the concerns expressed by President Xi at the CAS/CAE gathering that the once rather “user friendly” international environment has become increasingly challenging in terms of welcoming expanded cooperation and collaboration with the People’s Republic of China. Little did President Xi recognise just how challenging that environment would become by mid-2020.

The 21st century represents a new, dynamic period in world history in terms of the conduct of international S&T affairs. One might even designate it a “new era of science diplomacy” (Ruffini 2017), though reference was made to the idea of leveraging the role of science and technology in foreign policy back in the 1970s when Henry Kissinger served as the US Secretary of State (Lord 2019). The idea of science diplomacy refers to “the use and application of science cooperation to help build bridges and enhance relationships between and amongst societies, with a particular interest in working in areas where there might not be other mechanisms for official engagement at an official level” (Turekian 2009). While for much of the 1980s and 1990s, China was a “target” for science diplomacy, with the West and Japan using S&T cooperation as a mechanism to bring China more into the mainstream of international relations, by the early 21st century, China itself started to embark on its own course of pro-active science diplomacy to enhance its image, visibility and reputation across different parts of the world, especially in the 60+ so-called “Belt & Road” (BRI) countries.

Of course, the ability of science diplomacy to thrive has been aided by the onset of globalisation. This phenomenon has enabled the almost unimpeded movement of people, products and services, and knowledge across borders and cultures. China has been one of its major beneficiaries, utilising access to the world’s most advanced corporations, best universities, most dynamic research institutes, and government and non-governmental international organisations and scholarly bodies as a way to support and advance its own modernisation efforts (Samuelson 2018). For most of the last 40 years, China has had increasingly unencumbered access to these critical repositories of know-how and information, though Chinese leaders also have felt steadily more and more anxious about the degree to which the openness of the world economy would continue to work in China’s favour (Zukus 2017). In fact, we likely also have entered an era in which the forces of globalisation are increasingly being threatened by the rise of “techno-nationalism” across the globe.

This chapter analyses China’s evolving strategy, policies and practices regarding its international science and technology relations. It highlights China’s strategic posture and footprint in terms of its goal of becoming a player of influence in the international S&T system. It examines the PRC’s relationships with several major S&T countries, comparing similarities and differences in terms of the depth and breadth of cooperation. Finally, the chapter concludes with a discussion of the changing landscape of the international S&T system, with a focus on the ways in which China’s expanded participation might alter the evolving structure and operation of the system in the coming years.

China’s Evolving Global S&T Footprint

China’s engagement in international S&T affairs began with the founding of the PRC in 1949, when the CPC formulated and implemented a bilateral S&T cooperation agreement with the former Soviet Union (yi bian dao), a relatively short-lived arrangement that was followed by the policy of self-reliance (zi li geng sheng) in response to Moscow’s termination of technology assistance in 1960. The relationship between Moscow and Beijing had been highly asymmetrical as China was very dependent on the USSR for massive inflows of industrial equipment and managerial know-how to jump-start the Chinese economy after the end of the civil war with the Kuomintang in 1949. In the late 1970s, following the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution and beginning with Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening Up policy, China’s leadership shifted its focus to rapid economic and S&T development. In terms of China’s international S&T relations, guidelines were adopted to lay the foundation for expanded global engagement and a more pro-active international involvement, including a significant growth in the level of international S&T cooperation. By the end of the 20th century, China had achieved full-scale implementation of an international S&T cooperation system focused on acquiring foreign technology and fostering cooperative arrangements with leading international scientific institutions.

With the open policy and general abandonment of the policy of self-reliance, China joined numerous international and regional S&T organisations, and promoted foreign plant, equipment and technology imports. During the first two decades of the 21st century, the government pushed for more mutually beneficial international S&T cooperation, developing better-articulated programmes in an effort to achieve greater symmetry of results and better-defined mutual benefit. Currently, China is playing an increasingly active role in international organisations, encompassing major global science and engineering programmes, while at the same time strengthening technical assistance to developing countries (Cheng 2008). Since 2012, China has sought to plan and promote innovation with what it now characterises as a global vision, embodied in various key national policies.[1]

At present, China is in the process of transforming itself from primarily a technology importer to a technology importer and exporter, as it pursues its strategy of promoting an indigenous innovation strategy alongside global engagement (CPC 2016). Central to its efforts to move from imitator and copy-cat to an innovation-driven nation are a series of policies and initiatives associated with becoming a central player in international S&T affairs (Xie, Zhang and Lai 2014). By 2020, China had established S&T cooperation partnerships with 166 countries and regions and executed over 100 inter-governmental agreements on S&T cooperation. In addition, the PRC has joined over 200 inter-governmental international S&T cooperation and research organisations. It has appointed 144 S&T diplomats for its 70+ overseas offices in 47 countries. And, at the beginning of 2018, over 400 Chinese scientists held office in international S&T-related NGOs, including approximately 30 as chairman and 50 as vice-chairman. Among the world’s 48 major cross-border big science programmes and projects, four have been initiated by China and 17 have China’s official participation; China also serves as an observer in three programmes. This all demonstrates that China’s presence in the structure and organisation of global S&T governance is becoming more meaningful and steadily expanding.

The Administrative Structure of China’s International S&T Policies and Engagement

The S&T governance structure of China’s international S&T engagement is composed of a number of key state agencies and organisations. There are multiple ministries and commissions, central and local government entities, and academic institutions involved in this sphere of activity. While aspects of this structure continue to evolve as a result of organisational changes first introduced at the 19th Party Congress and the “Liang Hui” meetings in March 2018, the basic fabric remains the same (Liu et al. 2011). Three organisations have emerged as the most important in organising and managing China’s international S&T relations: the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST).[2]

The Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST)

The Ministry of Science and Technology is the predominant entity that plans and implements China’s overseas S&T activities, providing the overarching framework for international S&T cooperation and exchanges at different levels and by increasingly diverse actors. Since its mission is to foster economic growth and technological advance, MOST coordinates basic research, frontier technology research and the development of key and advanced technologies. It is mandated also to formulate policies on international S&T cooperation and exchanges through bilateral and multilateral channels, guiding relevant departments and local governments in international interactions, appointing and supervising S&T diplomats and facilitating assistance to and from China. MOST’s Executive Office is responsible for drafting and formulating important policies and handling tasks assigned by the State Council.

A number of other departments play key roles in China’s S&T development, commercialisation and foreign relations. The Department of International Cooperation (DIC) is without question the most important of these, as it bears responsibility for China’s international S&T cooperation. The department reports to one of the MOST vice-ministers who manages the international S&T portfolio. The DIC drafts policies on international S&T cooperation and exchange, providing guidance for the international S&T affairs of relevant agencies and local governments. For example, the department organises inter-governmental innovation dialogues and bilateral and multilateral S&T cooperation agreements and exchanges; tracks country-specific deployment of key S&T programmes; conducts technology forecasts; and promotes the construction of international S&T cooperation bases.

In March 2018, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) was placed under the oversight of MOST. SAFEA, heretofore, had been responsible over several decades for bringing to China a broad range of experienced scientific and technical experts to assist their Chinese counterparts with various developmental problems and issues. It also has sent many PRC delegations abroad, especially to the US, Western Europe and Japan for training in management and an assortment of technical fields.

As part of the same change, the China National Natural Science Foundation (NNSFC) was also moved under the direct oversight of MOST. The NNSFC oversees support for much of the research in basic science that occurs within China. Its creation was modelled after the US National Science Foundation; the onset of serious peer review in the submission and awarding of grants helped improve the reliability and credibility of the funding system. The NNSFC has developed extensive links with top scientists around the world and has included members of the international S&T community in the periodic reviews of its operational performance.

An important affiliated agency under MOST is the China Science and Technology Exchange Center (CSTEC). CSTEC has been assigned many important responsibilities, such as managing science and technology programmes/projects involving foreign elements related to research, implementation and training activities; managing science and technology representative offices in foreign countries; overseeing the experts exchange programme; and managing the programme to attract global scientific talents. The current workforce of CSTEC numbers more than 100, of which 20 are representatives of overseas scientific and technological offices. As a non-profit public service organisation, since its inception (more than 40 years ago), all its operating expenses have been granted by the state budget equivalent to more than one billion USD annually.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, until recently directed by President Bai Chunli,[3] is structured as a comprehensive, integrated R&D network. It is the nation’s high-end think tank, a merit-based learned society as well as a system of higher education and has long functioned as the linchpin of China’s national and global S&T ambitions. As of 2018, there were 124 institutions directly under CAS, with 104 research institutes, three universities, 12 branch academies, 11 supporting organisations in 23 provinces and 25 affiliated legal entities. CAS is constantly undergoing reform and change, with mergers and consolidation of institutes becoming more and more common. The size of the overall staff is 67,900, with 56,000 serving as professional researchers.

Since its inception, CAS has made significant progress in fostering international S&T cooperation relationships (Bai 2017a). It has succeeded in developing extensive and diverse partnerships with research institutes and scientists across the globe, and is well positioned to play a central role in shaping China’s S&T diplomacy from a substantive point of view (Poo and Wang 2014). To take some recent examples, CAS has accomplished the following:

  • establishment of 20 collaborative groups with the German Max Planck Society in areas including astronomy, life sciences and materials science;
  • implementation of several talent programmes (such as the CAS Fellowship for Senior and Young International Scientists), attracting over 1,000 foreign scientists and engineers to conduct R&D activities at its institutes;
  • initiation in 2016 of a BRI action plan calling for international S&T cooperation, training and cultivating more than 1,800 S&T management and high-tech personnel for relevant countries; and
  • plans to become the spearhead and central hub for an Asia-Pacific, Eurasia and Asia-Africa collaborative innovation network system (Bai 2017b).

The structure and organisation of CAS are well developed, with a number of departments responsible for managing domestic R&D programmes and international S&T cooperation. The Bureau of International Cooperation’s responsibilities are the most central to the international mission; its mandate includes formulating strategies, plans, rules and regulations for CAS international cooperation and exchanges; coordinating academy-level international cooperation affairs; initiating and managing key cooperative programmes and fellowships; and maintaining links with related agencies of international organisations in China.

The China Association for Science and Technology (CAST)

Founded in 1958, the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) is under the direct jurisdiction of the Secretariat of the CPC’s Central Committee. Its role includes promoting S&T exchanges and indigenous innovation, protecting and advancing the interests of scientific workers, organising S&T professionals to participate in formulating national S&T policies, and facilitating non-governmental international S&T exchanges and cooperation through developing liaisons with foreign S&T associations and scientists.

CAST is made up of national scientific and professional societies and local S&T associations. Among the national societies, 42 are in the natural sciences, 73 in engineering, 15 in agriculture, 26 in medical sciences and 23 in interdisciplinary scientific fields. Local associations—totalling around 3,000—include those organised by provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government, cities and counties. Among its various departments, the Bureau of International Liaison is mainly responsible for international S&T affairs. It is responsible for working out annual plans and advice for CAST bilateral communications, conducting research and summarising experiences on S&T exchanges, and exploring and developing partnerships with S&T associations in key countries and regions.

China’s International S&T Policies: Continuity and Change

Since Deng Xiaoping’s opening up and reform, the Chinese government has been consistent in both encouraging Chinese organisations to engage abroad to better leverage international S&T resources and formulating a series of policies to guide its S&T engagement with other countries (Bound et al. 2013). Today, these policies reflect the growing emphasis on strengthening indigenous innovation, especially in view of the impact of the so-called US-China trade/tech war on PRC access to advanced technologies. From China’s standpoint, indigenous innovation is necessarily coupled with an outward-looking strategy that calls for S&T partnerships and international collaborations. International S&T relations are thus best understood as constructed to serve China’s goal of becoming a global innovation leader, especially in key technologies such as clean energy, artificial intelligence and life sciences (Cao and Suttmeier 2017).

China’s state-led efforts to achieve indigenous innovation have not been well received by Western rivals (Atkinson, Cory and Ezell 2017). The 15 Year Medium-to-Long-term Plan for Science and Technology (MLP; Ministry of Science and Technology 2006), for example, was roundly denounced in a US Chamber of Commerce-sponsored report bearing the title, China’s Drive for Indigenous Innovation: A Web of Industrial Policies (McGregor 2010; Ministry of Science and Technology 2016b). The report accused China of “hunkering behind the ‘techno-nationalism’ moat”, switching “from defense to offense” in light of its economic ascendance as well as its fear of foreign domination (McGregor 2010). The MLP, according to the report, “is considered by many international technology companies to be a blueprint for technology theft on a scale the world has never seen before”. The report obviously contains a great deal of hyperbole; nonetheless, the MLP’s policies did provoke a strong reaction from China’s major trade and technology partners that has not dissipated over time. Given that innovation capability and talent increasingly drive competition among countries, China’s leaders recognise that a strong domestic S&T capacity has become the core requirement for meaningful and productive bilateral and multilateral S&T cooperation (Simon and Cao 2009b). For China, the emphasis on indigenous innovation, however, no longer meant self-reliance as was the case in the 1960s. Rather, it has been seen as a pathway to strengthen China’s leverage in the international technology market.

Budgetary allocations for international S&T cooperation have grown apace with domestic S&T spending, especially at the local level (OECD 2014). As suggested above, China’s emphasis on indigenous innovation should not obscure the fact that the government has spared no efforts to deepen and enlarge bilateral and multilateral S&T partnerships. The 13th Five-Year S&T Plan,[4] in contrast to its predecessors, designates tasks and goals that serve Beijing’s current strategy of science diplomacy, transforming itself from passive recipient to active donor.

China’s international S&T cooperation strategy is carefully differentiated according to a categorisation of partners into developed, developing and neighbouring countries. The Plan calls for increased openness of China’s national S&T programmes, including offering governmental support to overseas experts who are expected to take the lead, or at least participate in, national S&T programme strategic research. It also calls for deepening international cooperation on an equal basis with international partners (a claim which has been met with some scepticism). To achieve its goals, China has initiated and organised significant international S&T programmes and projects; has become more actively involved in helping to set global S&T agendas; has accelerated the sharing of global large-scale scientific research information; and has begun active participation in global S&T governance, including the formulation of international S&T cooperation rules. Chinese scientists have increased their participation in scientific exchange programmes and sought official positions in major international scientific and technological organisations. China’s most recent, and clearly most dramatic, diplomatic move in the science field is the BRI S&T cooperation network, which calls for promoting technology transfer and assisting countries in training young scientists, a clear indication that China plans to play a central role in the international S&T landscape as a technology exporter as well as importer (Zou 2018).

In January 2018, President Xi presided over the second round of the Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reform of the central government. One important resolution called for actively initiating and organising international Big Science programmes and projects, another for strengthening regulations in IPR protection. Despite comments from foreign critics that the PRC appears to be becoming more techno-nationalistic, China clearly continues to look outward—out of both conviction and necessity—as it plans its S&T future.

China’s International S&T Relations with Major Countries

Under its government-to-government bilateral arrangements, numerous scientists and engineers have participated in a broad array of collaborative projects with their counterparts abroad. Since the mid-1990s, however, China has greatly expanded its international S&T engagements. More and more activities are now occurring outside the government bilateral accords and now include a rapidly expanding number of university-to-university ties, corporate linkages and cooperation with think tanks. Most recently, China’s provincial and local S&T organisations also have become increasingly involved in orchestrating overseas S&T ties; many Chinese provinces and municipalities are leading the charge to find new, dynamic international S&T cooperation partnerships.

Although China is extending S&T cooperation partnerships with an increasing number of countries globally, its focus is still on working with the major developed states, based on national recognition of the prevailing technology gaps.

China–US S&T Relations

The 1979–89 period featured the inception of China–US S&T cooperation. The 1979 agreement on science and technology has functioned as the overall framework under which the two governments have promoted S&T cooperation in various forms and through a large number of channels. The two countries also concluded an accord to allow for student and scholar exchanges. From 1978 to 1987, the number of students and visiting scholars sent by the Chinese government to the US reached 25,000. The China–US S&T relationship is overseen by a Joint Commission that meets on a scheduled basis to review existing programmes and identify new areas of cooperation. The membership on the Joint Commission reflects participation from the key government agencies tied respectively to China’s State Council and the US Executive branch of government.

Bilateral S&T cooperation experienced rapid growth during the early years as it was new and exciting; the two parties invested significantly to support joint programmes. By 1987, there had been 27 signed cooperative agreements. That said, China–US S&T cooperation during this period also was constrained by a variety of political and financial factors and was largely asymmetrical and one-sided because China concentrated on utilising US-provided instruments and equipment, and experts from the US played the primary role in knowledge dissemination and personnel training. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that the two sides also had quite different objectives. The US intended to counter the former USSR by developing rapport and trust with China, and the US technical community was interested in the distinctive natural and social phenomena in China. The Chinese side, however, assumed that engagement with the international science and technology system, especially with the US, would be a useful vehicle for promoting economic construction and catching up with world’s leading powers (Suttmeier 2014).

From 1990 to 1999, bilateral S&T relations witnessed some apparent decline, followed by a resumption of activity. Due to the events in Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989, many programmes were curtailed, including China–US space cooperation. The US also terminated high-level political exchanges and postponed meetings of the Joint Commission, which dealt a heavy blow to S&T cooperation. Gradual resumption of bilateral S&T cooperation began in 1994, when the two parties decided to restore the Joint Commission Meeting (JCM). With China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001 and the smooth transition to the next generation of Chinese leaders—Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao—the possibilities for new growth began to appear (Suttmeier and Simon 2014).

From 2000 to 2015, China–US relations were characterised by comprehensive and rapid development. Then President Hu Jintao remarked in 2012 at the 14th meeting of the Joint Commission that S&T cooperation had become an important driving force for Sino–US relations, and a critical component of people-to-people exchange. This cooperation fell into six main areas: energy and physics, health and life science, ecology and environmental science, agriculture and food science, science education, and metrology. It is worth noting that beginning in 2006, when the MLP was launched, the agenda for bilateral S&T cooperation reflected a heightened awareness of the urgent need to explore interdisciplinary research themes, frontier science and international hot issues such as global warming, new and clean energy, carbon capture and aggregation. In other words, the rising salience of these global issues altered the context for both sides to think about how S&T cooperation might proceed. A series of new initiatives were taken that were based on high-level political commitments. The Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) that came into place in 2006 and later the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) produced an enormous expansion of activities and functions. The latter launched the Ten-Year Framework on Energy and Environment Cooperation in 2008, designating clean water, clean air, clean vehicles and energy efficiency as key areas with high priority for cooperation. By 2011, China had risen to become the top collaborating partner of the US, outpacing the UK, Japan and Germany, nations that have been long-time partners of the US in science (Suttmeier 2014). By the end of the decade, in jointly authored scientific papers, Chinese scientists claimed first authorship much more frequently than US counterparts (Wagner, Bornmann and Leydesdorff 2015).

One of the key elements of these new dialogues was the initiation of the China–US Innovation Dialogue, which began in 2008 as part of a discussion about how the Chinese side could improve performance of its own innovation system. The Innovation Dialogue had great potential when it started because it might have served as a useful vehicle for exchanging meaningful information about the evolving requirements for successful innovation in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, the Innovation Dialogue ended up being neither a real dialogue nor about innovation. On the US side, growing disenchantment with China in the US Congress led to constraints being placed on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) about expansion of S&T cooperation; funding was tightly controlled. Moreover, the innovation agenda was hijacked by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) and made to focus on extracting concessions from the Chinese side on pressing trade matters. The bulk of discussions ended up concentrating on dismantling Chinese policies regarding the promotion of indigenous innovation. On the Chinese side, the prize still remained in sight, though their side also was often distracted from the core innovation-related issues that they expected to drive the Innovation Dialogue.

The Trump administration took a number of major steps to alter the essential dynamics of the overall China–US S&T relationship. Certain things have become clear as the two countries attempt to find a way around their on-going trade war—which essentially has been centred on technology issues. First, with the general weakening of the OSTP, the S&T relationship lacks a major policy advocate on the US side. Second, Congress remains reluctant to provide any substantial funding for growing the relationship in new areas. This is unfortunate because with China making real progress in terms of its S&T capabilities, there is now more opportunity than ever to take advantage of the greater symmetry in the relationship (Perez 2017). Third, because of tensions over trade, technology transfer, North Korea and the South China Sea, the political environment does not support maintaining the status quo let alone an expanded relationship. In fact, the newest bilateral S&T agreement (2018) did not experience a smooth renewal process during the most recent negotiations; the final decision to renew the agreement was done under the shadow of darkness and given a very low profile from both governments. The decision by the Trump Administration in March 2018 to invoke special legislation under the US Section 301 laws concerning trade and investment with China brought on the beginning of “a trade war” with China with technology theft and other related IPR issues positioned at the centre of American concerns (USTR 2017). Even as the two countries seemed to have arrived at an initial agreement over their trade issues by the end of 2019, not much real progress was made. Even under the new Biden administration, Washington and Beijing still remain at loggerheads over several delicate issues regarding technology, national security and IPR issues past and present (OECD/EUIPO 2016).

And finally, the growing reality is that non-government exchanges and cooperation regarding the private sector, universities and think tanks have far surpassed the level of government-to-government cooperation. This was the main thrust, albeit implicit, of comments made by former Vice-Premier Liu Yandong during her Fall 2017 visit to the US where she highlighted the need for greater emphasis and support for people-to-people diplomacy in the area of China–US science and cooperation. It also became the focal point of critical comments by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in early 2018 when he warned American higher education institutions about the vulnerability of their institutions to “non-traditional” collectors coming from China of critical scientific and technical information. The onset of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan in early 2020 and its transition into a major global pandemic further exacerbated the tensions between the Trump administration and the Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping. Finger-pointing, accusations about blame and lack of transparency, and even racism, etc. have travelled across the Pacific in both directions, thus further damaging the possibilities for rekindling the kind of relationship that existed in the past.

China–Russia S&T Relations

China–Russia S&T relations should be divided into three phases—Phase One: close China–Soviet S&T cooperation (1949–60); Phase Two: the Sino–Soviet Split (1961–90); and Phase Three: renewed China–Russia S&T cooperation in the post-Cold War era (1991–present). Relations today between the two countries under Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping respectively seem to be on the verge of a golden era, as they both see expanded opportunities for re-building their bilateral S&T relationship.

During Phase One, the Soviet Union transferred a variety of technologies to China that helped lay the foundation for the renewal of industrial production, assisted China with formulating a 12-year plan for S&T development, established S&T research and design institutes, developed scientific research and industrial technology and cultivated S&T talent (Jersild 2014). That said, the over-dependence on the Soviet Union for technology introduction and implementation ultimately proved to have a negative impact when Moscow suddenly withdrew its experts and terminated all assistance in 1960 due to rising political tensions between the Communist Party organisations in the two countries.

Several agreements were critical in terms of laying the initial overall framework for S&T cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. The 1954 Sino–Soviet Agreement on Science and Technology Cooperation ushered in Moscow’s 156 technical aid projects, mostly in industrial production and equipment, as well as the establishment of a special joint committee that administered and oversaw S&T cooperation between the two countries. Moscow provided Beijing with a significant amount of technical data and documents, such as design data for power plants, coal mines, machinery, teaching outlines and technical standards. Most of the projects were located in China’s old industrial northeast region. In 1956, Moscow sent S&T experts to Beijing to help China formulate its “12-Year Plan for Science and Technology Development”, which was a milestone for setting in place China’s S&T efforts under Mao Zedong. Both the development of the plan and the development of China’s entire post-1949 S&T system were heavily shaped by Russian influence, and it took major reform efforts under Deng Xiaoping after 1978, lasting till the start of the 21st century, to come out from under the heavy weight of that Soviet influence.

Soviet assistance in S&T talent cultivation was conducted in three ways: China sent experts and outstanding S&T professionals to the USSR, either as interns or researchers, to work and gain knowledge in areas that were seen as most urgent for economic and industrial development. These professionals would return to establish the foundation of critically needed technologies for growing the Chinese economy. In some instances, China would directly recruit Soviet experts to help set up scientific research institutes within CAS and relevant departments and promote comprehensive cooperation with the Chinese S&T community. Large groups of Chinese professionals were organised to receive training by Soviet experts already in China to support ongoing development projects. Training in the USSR helped to spearhead the development of China’s computer industry in the 1950s; the majority of the first cadre of computer scientists in China were all trained there.

Apart from S&T support in the civilian sector, Moscow also provided technologies that were of great importance for developing China’s military capability and national defence. In 1954, Khrushchev agreed to assist China in developing atomic energy for peaceful purposes, in exchange for Mao’s political support. This was the first step in China’s research and production effort in nuclear weapons (Lewis and Xue 1991). In 1956, the Eastern Atomic Energy Institute was established in Dubna (a designated “science town” in the Moscow oblast). China shouldered 20 per cent of the costs for construction and operation; Moscow, 50 per cent. To a certain degree, this joint endeavour helped lay the theoretical and personnel foundation for the Chinese nuclear weapons programme. In 1958, a heavy water reactor, cyclotron, and a scientific nuclear research facility were completed in Tuoli, a suburb southwest of Beijing, which enormously improved research conditions for China’s nuclear physics programme. Sophisticated technology and equipment were provided to support the research, design and production of China’s first atomic bomb and missile delivery systems.

Needless to say, this brief period of close China–Soviet technology cooperation reflected Moscow’s Realpolitik, even if much of it was couched in terms of a Communist brotherhood (Shen and Xia 2012). Khrushchev’s decision to assist China in developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes occurred within the framework of a post-Stalin power struggle in which Mao’s support was critical for strengthening his political status within the former Soviet government. Moscow’s support for China’s nuclear programme subsequently expanded to include weapons-related technologies in 1957, after Mao expressed his support for Khrushchev, who was under threat of being overthrown in Moscow by a senior group who objected to his programme of “de-Stalinisation”. Mao, however, soon became disenchanted with Khrushchev’s de-Stalinisation campaign and let his dissatisfaction be known. Predictably, the flow of Soviet nuclear aid to China became increasingly limited in pace, scope and depth when Khrushchev’s position was firmly secure (Shen and Xia 2012). In addition, as China fell into the turbulence and radicalism of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), the Russians had become increasingly concerned about what was happening in China, about Mao’s leadership and about security issues along the Sino–Soviet border.

Phase Two saw cooperation between the two countries come to a grinding halt. Military tensions about border issues along the Amur (Ussuri) River on the Chinese north-eastern border as well as the revolutionary posture of the Chinese Communist Party in its relations abroad made for difficult times. It was not until Gorbachev came to power and offered an olive branch to China that S&T cooperation could be restored. Gorbachev offered to work with China to build a railroad line linking Urumqi and Kazakhstan, to engage China in Russia’s space programme and to resolve the navigation channel issues on the Amur River.

In Phase Three, the so-called “post-Cold War era”, China–Russia S&T cooperation has strengthened and become increasingly institutionalised, the result of both traditional political ties and the practical need to maintain strategic coordination to balance the power and influence of the United States (Wilson 2014). Shortly after the collapse of the USSR, Beijing sent a vice-ministerial level S&T delegation to Moscow to establish inter-governmental S&T relations. In 1992, the two sides concluded the Agreement on China–Russia Science and Technology Cooperation, setting up the Standing Committee for S&T cooperation at the vice-premier level Sino–Russia Committee of Economic, Trade, and S&T Cooperation. More than 200 inter-governmental programmes were formulated during 1993–6, covering almost all aspects of socioeconomic development. The mechanism of regular meetings between Chinese and Russian premiers was established in 1997, which was a historic milestone in the process of institutionalising bilateral S&T relations.

The 1998–2012 period can be categorised as a time of exploration for high-tech industry transformation and innovation cooperation. China and Russia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Innovation Cooperation, creating a working group to guide, supervise and facilitate joint R&D in such diverse areas as nuclear energy, telecommunications, shipbuilding, environmental protection, biotech, aeronautics and astronautics. The Sino–Russian Science and Technology Park in Changchun began operation in 2006 as a demonstration project for cooperation in wider areas.

From 2012 onward, Sino–Russia S&T cooperation has gradually shifted from short-term, small-scale to mid- to long-term cooperation on big projects. An MOU was initiated to direct joint efforts in priority areas including nanotechnology, materials science, life science, energy, and information and communication technology. The most recent important development is the first Sino–Russia Innovation Dialogue convened by MOST and Russia’s Department of Economic Development in June 2017. The dialogue engages some 200 representatives from government, universities, research institutes, industry, investment institutions, technology transfer institutes and high-tech innovation enterprises. The two parties issued a joint statement that commits concerted bilateral efforts to coordinate national innovation policies and to strengthen communications over issues such as innovation strategy, trends, construction of national innovation systems, technology transfer, mass entrepreneurship, S&T finance and industry conglomeration. In addition, China and Russia will support cooperation between business incubators located in both countries, encourage young people to start their own businesses, strengthen cooperation between Chinese and Russian science parks and push for the establishment of a China–Russia technology industry cooperation platform.

China–Japan S&T Relations

S&T exchanges between China and Japan began in the 1960s, initially conducted largely by civil society organisations, with limited government participation.[5] In 1978, following the normalisation of relations six years earlier, the Japanese government established official cooperative S&T links with China; the principal participants were Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and China’s State S&T Commission (later Ministry of Science and Technology). Cooperation during this period was characterised largely by one-way technology transfer to China, which was then eager for the scientific knowledge and industrial technology it regarded as indispensable for building its basic science and research system and industrial base. The 1980 Agreement on China–Japan Science and Technology Cooperation marked the inception of the so-called “horizontal” cooperative mechanism that expedited cooperation and, more importantly, significantly expanded the forms, channels and participants involved in the cooperative S&T relationship.

Despite the often strained state of the bilateral relationship stemming from the unresolved issues associated with World War II, Sino–Japan S&T cooperation is increasing (Yahuda 2013). Expanded cooperation is conducted under the overall framework of several important agreements, including Agreements on China–Japan Science and Technology Cooperation, China–Japan Cooperation in Environmental Science, and China–Japan Nuclear Energy Cooperation; exchanges and cooperation through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA); and direct cooperation between the S&T ministries and departments of each country. Personnel exchanges are witnessing a rapid increase, in that major Chinese government departments and research institutes have established regular and stable cooperative partnerships with Japanese counterparts.

The Joint Committee of Sino–Japan S&T Cooperation serves as an important organisation that oversees, administers and promotes exchanges and joint R&D programmes. The 10th annual meeting held in Tokyo in 2003 was of particular significance in that the parties pledged increased collaboration based on the principle of “equal status and mutual benefits”. There was an emphasis on high-level exchanges, encouraging the active participation of universities, research institutes and industries. China and Japan agreed that the focus of cooperation in the future should be on biotech, life science (including agricultural and food technologies), IT, nanotechnology, energy and the environment. The last named has arguably proven to be the most effective, given its large scale and high level of personnel exchange, covering wide areas of cooperation. Beijing and Tokyo signed the first agreement on environmental protection in 1994, and the inter-governmental joint committee organised the first conference to designate a series of environmental protection programmes. In 1996 Japanese Prime Minister Takeshita Noboru initiated the China–Japan Friendship Environmental Protection Center through Japan’s Office of Development Assistance (ODA). Currently, the centre plays an important role in pollution prevention technology, environmental monitoring, environmental information, environmental strategy and policy studies, personnel training, and environmental technology exchanges. Japan has been particularly concerned about the level of acid rain flowing across Northern Japan from the industrial pollution in China’s northeast where many older factories still continue to produce goods using dated technology and energy sources, including burning China’s notoriously dirty coal. Japan also is concerned about its coastal waters, given China’s offshore drilling activity and the extensive Chinese fishing fleet in the area.

Apart from inter-governmental cooperation, non-governmental S&T exchange and cooperation also are playing increasingly important roles, as investments and R&D centres established by Japanese high-tech enterprises are rapidly growing. Demonstration projects have included Sharp Wuxi (LCD), SGNEC (chips), Shanghai Huahong NEC (semi-conductors), Shanghai Fanuc (robots), world telecommunications tycoon NTT Docomo (Internet), and Huawei and China Unicom (Internet of Things).

Japanese enterprises are seeking greater cooperation with Chinese universities to expand their business channels in China. For instance, Sumitomo and Shanghai Jiaotong University signed an agreement to foster joint R&D, personnel training, and co-funded technology development programmes with high potential. The establishment of the Daikin–Tsinghua R&D Centre marked the first S&T initiative in China by Japanese air-conditioner makers, intended to develop energy-saving technologies. Other Japanese industrial leaders have established overseas R&D centres in China, including Toshiba, Ricoh and Fujitsu (Zhang 2007). In addition, with the platform provided by MOST and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), universities in both countries are able to cooperate on S&T innovation and other urgent S&T-related issues. In 2016, MOST and JST initiated a joint programme on the urban environment and energy with participation from Chinese universities (Tsinghua, PKU and Zhejiang) and Japanese universities such as the University of Tokyo, Tohoku University and Nagoya University (Embassy of the PRC in Japan 2016).

Notwithstanding these increases, Sino–Japan S&T relations occur within an overall framework of the political strains mentioned earlier stemming from historical conflicts, current territorial disputes and worsening security competition in East Asia (Newby 2018). In response to a unilateral move by Tokyo to nationalise the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in 2012, Beijing cancelled the annual meeting organised by the China–Japan S&T Cooperation Committee, which was not resumed until 2015. A highlight of the new engagement between the two countries involves energy conservation and environmental protection. The 2nd Sino–Japan Energy Saving and Environmental Protection Science and Technology Summit was held in Dongguan in December 2017, which facilitated the confirmation of multiple projects between Chinese and Japanese enterprises in energy saving and air pollution control.

The first “Sino–Japanese energy conservation and environmental protection technology summit forum” was held in Dongguan in 2016. The “China–Japan Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Cooperation Pavilion” and the “China–Japan Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Science and Technology Summit Forum” have been identified as the permanent activities of China (Dongguan) International Scientific and Technological Cooperation Week. China’s energy-saving and environmental protection industry is developing rapidly with huge investments and a vast potential market; Japan has advanced technology and management experience that China requires (Swanström and Kokubun 2012). In 2017, the Guangdong Provincial Department of Science and Technology also released the Guidelines for Joint Innovation International Cooperation Projects, focusing on encouraging projects jointly supported by China and Japan in various fields for the purpose of moving new ideas into commercial production.

China’s S&T Relations with the EU

S&T relations between China and the EU have undergone fast development since the normalisation of diplomatic ties in 1975.[6] The agreements between the EU and China exist in parallel with a host of bilateral S&T agreements that China now has in place with various EU members. With Brexit, the departure of the UK from the European Union, the Sino–UK S&T relationship will take on added importance for the two countries. The EU and China signed a formal Science & Technology Cooperation Agreement in 1999, implemented through a joint steering committee, which has since served as providing guidelines and an overall framework for cooperation. In 2008, the European Atomic Energy Community and the Chinese government signed an agreement that put in place R&D cooperation for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In 2003, the EU–China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership was created and cooperation in a wide range of areas has been deepened and broadened, resulting in high interdependence today. The two parties adopted the EU–China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation and had the first High Level Innovation Cooperation Dialogue during the 16th EU–China Summit held in November 2013. Through regular meetings and a broad range of sectoral dialogues, the Strategic Agenda has been implemented under the cooperative umbrella set by the annual High Level Strategic Dialogue, the annual High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue and the bi-annual People-to-People Dialogue.

China has been recognised by the EU as a key partner on science, technology and innovation, with EU–China cooperation intensifying in recent years (EU 2015; Le Corre and Sepulchre 2016). China was the third most important international partner country under the Framework Programme 7 (FP7) that ran from 2007 to 2013, with 383 participants from Chinese organisations in 274 collaborative research projects and a total EU contribution of €35.24 million. Moreover, the well-recognised Marie Skłodowska-Curie Programme has included around 959 Chinese participants. China has been a key partner country in Horizon 2020 (H2020), the EU’s special Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, running from 2014 to 2020. So far, 227 applications from China were presented in 187 eligible proposals, with 60 participations of Chinese organisations in 33 main listed projects (EU 2015).[7]

Among all EU Member States, China’s S&T relations with Germany are perhaps the most stable and productive (Shambaugh and Sandschneider 2007). Germany has traditionally loomed large in the Chinese perception of the world S&T landscape due to the country’s strong industrial competitiveness and R&D capabilities. During Premier Li Keqiang’s 2017 visit to Germany, the two parties announced a “Plan of Action for Sino–German Cooperation: Shaping Innovation” which provides for a strategic high-tech project “Industry 4.0”, a German initiative on urbanisation and industrialisation along with informatisation and agricultural modernisation, which are China’s policy priorities. This is likely to result in increasing complementarity and coordination between “Made in China 2025” and “Industry 4.0”, facilitating innovation and global standard setting in the field of smart manufacturing (State Council 2015). Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) issued its China Strategy in 2015, and China’s MOST issued “Jointly Shaping the Future through Technology Innovation: Germany Strategy” in 2016, reflecting consensus on a shared responsibility to lead a new round of innovative industrial and economic change, one based on increased policy dialogue and enhanced S&T cooperation between the two countries.

There remain, however, some areas in which Germany shows little enthusiasm to cooperate, out of deep-seated concern that cooperation in some high-tech fields (for example, development of new automobile engines and solar panels) will erode its technologically competitive edge. The German government remains cautious in its approach to cooperation with China, given China’s poor record regarding IPR protection (European Commission 2018). In dealing with China, Germany is trying to strike a reasonable political balance between protecting its own competitive interests regarding the China market and ensuring some sort of alignment with the US and its other NATO partners.

Main Outstanding Issues and Challenges

In spite of the overall progress China has made in institutionalising its international S&T cooperation structure and expanding its cross-border S&T relationships, numerous challenges remain. IPR protection has been, and will continue to be, a serious concern for foreign S&T partners in both public and private sectors. The rise of China as a more active player in global S&T affairs has reflected its strengthened S&T capabilities, thus reducing the S&T gap with developed countries and shifting its relative position from a poor under-developed country to an emerging technological superpower (Literature Research Office of the CCP’s Central Committee 2016). This transition has significant implications for its S&T cooperation efforts. Technology imports shaped much of China’s cooperative relations during the time when China was playing catch-up; many foreign firms were willing to indulge China even with its lax IP protections as the price of gaining entry to the world’s largest and fast-growing market (Breznitz and Murphree 2011). Now that the “Chinese dream” is being realised, and China is increasingly viewed as a serious competitor, relations have become more difficult across a broad spectrum of areas (Friedberg 2020). For example, given China’s plans for massive investments in the development of artificial intelligence, will Western countries be willing to collaborate with China and perhaps put their technology at risk? Along with the rise of China’s position in the global innovation landscape, it has become increasingly difficult for the country to play the role of learner in its cooperation with developed countries. Clearly, China is in the process of redefining its role to one where it desires more of a co-equal partnership in terms of cooperation and contribution. This will require China to afford far greater IP protection for foreign partnerships; at present, PCT applications by China are roughly one third those of the US.[8]

Despite these challenges, some appreciable progress is being made. The US-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC) provides one illustrative example. CERC is characterised by public–private consortia underpinned by a strong IPR protection agreement. A special IPR Annex is part of the founding protocol. According to CERC’s 2012–13 annual report, projects under the Advanced Coal Technology Consortium yielded 17 patents, and projects under the Clean Vehicles Consortium projects resulted in 20 patents and invention disclosures in the US and 12 patents in China (US-China Clean Energy Research Center 2013). China’s diminishing asymmetry also opens up broad new avenues for substantive bilateral and multilateral cooperation, as China becomes a more important contributor to the world’s S&T literature, producing a growing number of top-tier cited refereed articles (Suttmeier and Cao 2006). In the framework of Horizon 2020, for example, the European Union and the Chinese government agreed to set up a joint project funding mechanism involving annual investments of roughly €100 million and 200 million RMB in support of joint projects between EU and Chinese agencies.

Over the past four decades, China has achieved significant gains from international S&T cooperation, spurred on by rapid economic development and its opening-up policy (Gewirtz 2019). China now sees international S&T cooperation as part of a new stage in its S&T development, in which there will be greater demand for international S&T cooperation at all levels and among public and private stakeholders. Along with China’s improvement in its S&T capacity and core competencies, China’s role in international S&T cooperation is changing gradually from learner to partner and rule maker. We expect to see increasing proactive participation by China in global S&T governance, as Chinese scientists hold a growing number of positions in major international S&T organisations, and as more Chinese-initiated “big science” projects and advanced research facilities attract scientists from all over the world.[9]

Under the specific reforms launched under the 13th Five-Year STI Plan and Strategy of Innovation-Driven Development (China STI 2016), China has put forth a strategic vision for future international S&T cooperation that includes very ambitious goals and innovative mechanisms (Ministry of Science and Technology 2016a). If reforms are successfully implemented, they should increase the openness of China’s S&T programmes, resulting in growing demand for international cooperation. Through comprehensive reforms, some of the issues that have thus far hindered S&T cooperation, such as restrictions on travel abroad and the use of funds, might be resolved.

Nonetheless, the Chinese government needs a clearer definition of its key role, one that improves the quality of its services to China’s major innovation actors. It is already reinforcing its international S&T cooperation strategy through such efforts as promoting innovation dialogues, expanding cultural and educational exchanges, upgrading the scale of communications and involving an expanded number of stakeholders such as universities, research institutes and private enterprises. The government also is setting up special funds and programmes, with different purposes and characteristics, to promote international S&T cooperation. More resources are being channelled and leveraged from not only central and local governments, but also the growing private sector. In the long run, China needs to develop a more coherent strategic plan and policy umbrella that will better guide its international cooperation activities and design more innovative mechanisms to better meet the country’s changing needs. It clearly is an appropriate time to introduce additional reforms that will foster mutually beneficial international S&T cooperation; these reforms will have to provide more incentives to potential and existing foreign partners that will overcome the anxieties and uncertainties that up to now, too often, have constrained the growth of new activities.

The bottom line looking ahead is a simple one: there is no major international S&T-related issue whose meaningful solution will not require close cooperation and collaboration with China (Mammadov 2020). Climate change, clean energy, global pandemics, water and other such issues are central to China’s future and mission, and critical for the world if it is to avoid major disasters in the coming years. China’s decision in 2017 to step up on global climate change despite the US decision (under President Trump) to withdraw from the Paris Accord signed during the Obama Administration marks an important turning point in China’s role in the international S&T system. Simply stated, China’s willingness to take on a leadership role in this issue portends an expanded Chinese presence across multiple similar issue areas. Chinese behaviour is starting to re-shape the global S&T and innovation landscape. How countries such as the US, Japan and the EU nations will deal with this new Chinese posture remains one of the key challenges facing the international S&T system (Wagner 2020).

During the 19th CPC National Congress held in October 2017, and despite the sense among many foreign observers, the Party’s General Secretary Xi Jinping indicated that China would continue to attach great importance to openness; Xi asserted that openness is critical for turning China into a true innovative country with global competitiveness. Under Xi’s leadership, despite an obvious increase in nationalist spirit, China promises to become more and more open, will combine “bring in” and “go global”, give priority to promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, and strengthen international cooperation to enhance its innovation capacity.

To achieve its goals, Beijing intends to make use of S&T comprehensively to advance major power diplomacy through strengthening and refining top-down designs for international S&T cooperation, deepening and expanding innovation dialogue mechanisms with major countries and S&T partnerships with developing countries, proactively initiating and coordinating international Big Science projects and programmes, and attracting high-end overseas S&T talent. There is a growing realisation among PRC leaders that China is steadily, albeit more gradually than desired, moving towards the centre of the global innovation stage, becoming one of the leaders in a number of important fields, and shifting from being a passive follower to achieving ‘san pao bing cun’ (catching up, running neck and neck and becoming top runner at the same time) (Steinfeld 2010: 184). This is the underpinning for the widely discussed Made in China 2025 initiative (Hsu 2017). Domestically, the major challenge facing Chinese society is people’s increasing demand for high quality life versus unbalanced, insufficient development. By pressing harder to enhance the performance of the research sector, the leadership hopes that advances in its S&T innovation capabilities can offset current shortcomings facing the Chinese economy (He 2017).

At the so-called “Liang Hui” or “Two Sessions” held in March 2018, Chinese policy regarding S&T and innovation appears to have undergone even further changes. China’s strategic high technologies are increasingly approaching the world frontier; the PRC has entered an historic stage of “running neck and neck, becoming top runner” while being in less of a “catching up” mode. Before his retirement as MOST minister, Wan Gang urged the Chinese S&T community to strengthen openness and cooperation so as both to proactively take part in international innovation and entrepreneurship, and to more efficiently leverage innovation resources both at home and abroad. China’s S&T diplomacy will be further enhanced by creating new dialogue mechanisms within existing multilateral organisations such as the BRI summit, G20 and BRICS, expanding the country’s S&T partnership network and diversifying prevailing methods of cooperation. The world’s most advanced major S&T powers still will loom large in China’s overall international S&T networks, especially when it comes to strategic emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and clean energy automobiles. In addition to upgrading the level of “mass entrepreneurship and mass innovation”, the government plans to improve existing talent polices to expand green channels for foreign experts to work in China, and attract Chinese international students to engage in entrepreneurial activities.

At the same time, Beijing has announced plans to co-build S&T cooperation platforms with Belt and Road countries such as national laboratories and research centres, technology transfer centres, and technology demonstration and promotion bases. As part of its own new “science diplomacy”, China has committed itself to building up the S&T capacity of developing countries both in hardware (research facilities) and software (knowledge and talent pools). This includes encouraging and supporting foreign scientists to initiate and participate in strategic research and in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of guidelines as well as strengthening the local talent pool to meet the demands of the new economic situation. As seen in comments in the Chinese media as well as the speeches of PRC officials, the government is determined to expand the channels for talent introduction, attract more high-end overseas Chinese and foreign experts, and promote Chinese scientists to high positions in international S&T organisations. This may help to explain why the former State Administration for Foreign Experts has been incorporated into the MOST organisation.

Equally important, Beijing has suggested that enterprises also will play a more active role in promoting the country’s international S&T innovation cooperation. They will be absorbed into inter-governmental S&T cooperation mechanisms, and those in good financial condition will be supported to establish overseas R&D centres to carry out international industry-university-research institute cooperation. Also, foreign companies will continue to be encouraged by the Chinese government to set up R&D centres and labs in China. However, there remain two outstanding issues for Beijing. The first revolves around the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Chinese economic trajectory. At the May 2020 meeting of the “Liang Hui” (Two Sessions), it was announced that the national budget for science would be cut by 9.1 per cent; this stands in contrast to the 13 per cent increase that occurred in 2019 (Chen 2020). The gap is to be filled by local governments, so that the net result still will be a 3 per cent increase in public R&D expenditures. MOST Minister Wang Zhigang specifically noted that international cooperation would still be a major high priority.

The second issue deals with the impact of the COVID-19 experience on the prevailing structure and operation of the global supply chain and the evolving Chinese role in the global value chain. Many rumours have emerged about how Western firms will begin a significant retreat home as their degree of dependence on China and Chinese suppliers has come to be viewed as a high risk factor during the COVID-19 period. While initial indications from many multinationals are that there is much hyperbole surrounding many of the initial media reports, the fact remains that there are likely to be some pronounced shifts over the coming 2–3 years that could alter China’s plans to become a high value-added manufacturer and new source of design and innovation in the near future. Xi Jinping’s pronouncements in summer 2020 about China’s need to pursue a so-called “dual circulation” strategy that gives greater attention to the Chinese domestic economy highlight the fact that China already is preparing for potential discontinuities, including the increased difficulties that it will have gaining access to advanced foreign know-how (Lelyveld 2020).

Looking ahead, given that the country aims to deepen engagement in global S&T innovation governance, we likely will see more Chinese efforts at agenda setting for the global innovation system and more emphasis on rule setting for key international S&T projects to address key global challenges including food security, energy security, environmental protection, climate change and public health. It remains unclear, however, whether the international S&T community will welcome an enhanced Chinese presence without a series of concomitant gestures from Beijing with respect to prevailing norms and values in areas such as internet freedom, cyber security, IPR protection, research ethics, etc. The verdict has not yet been decided about just how bumpy the road ahead will be for China’s international S&T relations if present concerns are not addressed head on by Beijing.


[1] Examples are the “Opinions of the CPC Central Committee and State Council on Deepening S&T Reform and Speeding Up the Building of a National Innovation System” (CPC 2016), the 13th Five Year Science and Technology Plan, the Innovation-Driven Development Strategy and the Belt and Road Initiative on Building International S&T Cooperation Networks.

[2] Others include the Foreign Affairs Leading Group of the CPC, and the Inter-Ministerial Coordination Mechanism, which includes the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), Ministry of Education (MOE), the international cooperation departments of local governments, the China Association for International Science and Technology Cooperation, and enterprises. MOST also commands some 20 affiliated agencies, including the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China, the High-Tech Research and Development Centre, the Intellectual Property Rights Centre, the Supervision Service Centre for Science and Technology Funds and the National Science and Technology Venture Capital Development Centre.

[3] Professor Bai was President until December 2020; the current (January 2021) President is Professor Hou Jianguo.

[4] See in particular the 13th Five-Year Plan Special Program on International S&T Cooperation (Beijing: MOST 2016).

[5] Information in this section on Japan and China S&T cooperation was mainly derived from assorted issues of the JETRO China Newsletter, 1980–2000 (Japan External Trade Organisation, Tokyo).

[6] Information in this section was largely drawn from the website of the Delegation of the European Union to China (

[7] For detailed facts and figures regarding priority areas of FP7 and H2020 as well as Chinese participation, refer to the European Commission’s document “EU-China Research & Innovation Relations”, available online.

[8] The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) provides an international legal framework intended to ensure standard patenting procedures that provide IP protection.

[9] For a somewhat different conclusion, see Baark (2014), who argues that China does not yet possess the excellence that positions its scientific research institutions as world-leading, even if research in key organisations may be able to support leading and original research achievements.


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