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China is boosting tech self-reliance amid fierce global competition

On a sweltering Friday afternoon, cranes periodically maneuvered over a massive construction site in northwest Beijing’s Haidian district. Inside the walled-up site, trucks and machines roared, though with very limited noise. At the first glance, this was just a typical scene of major construction sites ubiquitous in many places across China amid the rapid recovery of economic activities following the country’s decisive victory against the COVID-19 epidemic.

Yet, another busy scene just several meters across the street from the construction site put into context the unique nature of the project. Outside the Zhongguancun (ZGC) Exhibition Center, police officers were busy guiding traffic and scores of people wearing business attire and flashy badges lined up for security checks under a large white tent. Inside the gate, a massive logo showed unmistakably what was taking place: “2023 ZGC Forum.”

The forum, first launched in 2007 in Zhongguancun, dubbed China’s “Silicon Valley,” has become a state-level platform for global scientific and technological (sci-tech) innovation exchanges and cooperation. After 13 editions, the forum has garnered considerable national and global influence and the country is striving to further expand its scale and global profile. The construction work across the street is for the permanent venue of the ZGC Forum.

Development of both Zhongguancun and the ZGC Forum has been at the forefront of China’s robust, intensifying efforts, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, to enhance sci-tech innovation capabilities and bolster sci-tech self-reliance and strength so as to foster new growth drivers and new strengths in face of fierce international competition.

Xi attaches great importance to sci-tech innovation. A book of his discourses on sci-tech self-reliance and strength has recently been published, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday. The book contains 50 relevant discourses by Xi, some of which were published for the first time, according to Xinhua.

From ‘China’s Silicon Valley’ to ‘Global ZGC’
On Thursday night, Xi sent a congratulatory letter to the 2023 ZGC Forum. He stressed that Beijing should fully leverage its strengths in education, science, technologies and talent, coordinate sci-tech and institutional innovation, continue to promote pilot reforms in Zhongguancun, further accelerate the construction of a world-leading sci-tech park, and strive to take the lead in the innovation of cutting-edge technologies and the development of advanced and sophisticated industries.

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, has attached great importance to the forum as well as Zhongguancun. In September 2013, led by Xi, members of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee visited the Zhongguancun Science Park and held a group study, the first time such a study has been held outside the central authority’s seat at Zhongnanhai.

Presiding over the group study, Xi stressed importance of science and technology in enhancing national strength. “We must enhance awareness of unexpected challenges and grab the opportunity of the science and technology revolution. We cannot wait, hesitate or slack,” Xi said.

In 2019, Xi sent a congratulatory letter to the 2019 ZGC Forum, saying that with the accelerating new round of sci-tech revolution and industrial transformation, innovation, development and cooperation with win-win results have become an inevitable trend.

Then in 2021, Xi delivered a speech via video at the opening ceremony of the forum, stressing that China attaches great importance to sci-tech innovation. He noted that Zhongguancun is China’s first national independent innovation demonstration zone, and the ZGC Forum is a state-level platform for global sci-tech innovation exchanges and cooperation.

Such support and leadership from the top leader have led to rapid development in Zhongguancun, which has become a flagbearer of China’s innovation. Total revenue of enterprises in the demonstration zone reached 8.7 trillion yuan in 2022, which is 3.5 times that of 2012, according to official data. Due to supportive measures, more than 300 multinationals have set up regional headquarters and research centers and more than 130 Fortune Global 500 companies have established branch offices in the zone. Some in China no longer describe Zhongguancun as “China’s Silicon Valley,” but “Global Zhongguancun.”

Thanks to the achievements in Zhongguancun, Beijing as a whole has also become a crucial hub in the global innovation network, ranking third globally in the number of “unicorn” companies and topping the Nature Index global science city rankings six consecutive times. In 2022, 293 new tech companies were established each day in Beijing, meaning a new tech firm was born every five minutes or so on average during the year.

The ZGC Forum has also seen remarkable achievements over the past decade or so, attracting thousands of industry players and scholars from around the world. This year’s forum, for example, has attracted guests from more than 80 countries and regions and nearly 200 international organizations and institutions, and about 120 top experts from around the world, including 17 Nobel Prize laureates.

For businesses, the ZGC Forum offers a great platform to learn about latest global trends and advances in cutting-edge technologies as well as to showcase latest innovation results, according to Qi Xiongdong, chairman of Qi An Xin Group, a cybersecurity firm. “If a new technology is not released at the ZGC Forum, it will not be adopted as quickly,” he said.

Beyond the ZGC Forum, China has also created a favorable environment for innovation nationwide with supportive measures in a wide range of areas such as talent, Qi told the Global Times. “China is doing very well in terms of sci-tech innovation,” he said, while noting that the country puts heavy emphasis on innovation as a primary driving force for high-quality development and on sci-tech self-reliance and strength.

Innovation as primary driving force
In the report to the opening session of the 20th National Congress of the CPC in October 2022, Xi stressed that innovation will remain at the heart of China’s modernization drive. He said that the country will accelerate the implementation of the innovation-driven development strategy, with faster pace to achieve greater self-reliance and strength in science and technology. Sticking to innovation-driven development is also a crucial part of Xi Jinping Thought on the Economy.

Over the past several months, Xi has at various major occasions stressed sci-tech innovation. While presiding over a group study session of the Political Bureau of the 20th CPC Central Committee in February, Xi urged strengthening basic research to consolidate self-reliance and strength in science and technology.

While taking part in a deliberation with his fellow deputies from the delegation of Jiangsu Province to the first session of the 14th National People’s Congress in March, Xi said that to open up new areas and new arenas in development and foster new growth drivers and new strengths in face of fierce international competition, China should ultimately rely on sci-tech innovation.

Under the innovation-driven development strategy, China has made great strides in bolstering its independent sci-tech innovation capabilities. In 2022, China moved up to the No.11 spot in the Global Innovation Index released by the World Intellectual Property Organization, compared to No.34 in 2012. China’s investment in research and development (R&D) jumped three times from 1 trillion yuan ($144 billion) in 2012 to 3 trillion yuan in 2022. The number of R&D personnel also exceeded 6 million in 2022, maintaining the world’s No.1 for many years.

China has also taken the lead or moved to the forefront in many areas of cutting-edge technologies such as 5G, new-energy vehicles, quantum competing and artificial intelligence. A series of recent major development also offered more proof of China’s rapidly rising sci-tech innovation prowess. On Sunday, China’s first home-grown passenger jet, the C919, made its first commercial flight. Last week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization adopted a decision concerning the establishment of a Category I Institute on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in Shanghai, which, once approved, would be the first Category I institute in China.

Shenzhou-16 spacecraft carrying three taikonauts has been lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Tuesday morning, heading for China Space Station in 1st crewed mission after station enters application and development phase.

Committed to international cooperation
While focusing on boosting its sci-tech self-reliance and strength, China has also been actively promoting international cooperation.

In his congratulatory letter to the 2023 ZGC Forum, Xi said that as a new round of sci-tech revolution and industrial transformation continues to evolve, mankind needs international cooperation, openness and sharing more than ever in order to address common development problems. Committed to a win-win strategy of opening-up, China is ready to join hands with other countries to promote sci-tech innovation and make science and technologies better serve people of all countries, he said.

“China has an incredible mix of expertise and experience,” Bill Gates, co-founder of US-tech giant Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a speech at the ZGC Forum on Friday, noting China’s commitment in investing in sci-tech innovation, according to a video the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission shared with the Global Times. “China will be able to make unique contributions to sharing its technologies.”

The ZGC Forum plays several major roles in terms of boosting sci-tech innovation in China as well as promoting sci-tech exchanges and cooperation globally, Wang Peng, a research fellow at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. “Through the platform, we can better learn about breakthroughs in fronter sci-tech fields, which offers a clear direction for domestic sci-tech innovation to tackle bottleneck problems,” he said.

Highlighting China’s commitment to promote global sci-tech exchanges, the country has recently held many forums and expos in various places for domestic and global businesses. In the latest example, in addition to the ZGC Forum, the China International Big Data Industry Expo 2023 also kicked off in Guiyang, Southwest China Guizhou Province on Friday, where many foreign businesses expressed solid confidence in China’s development.

“Panasonic’s business in the Chinese market has maintained a good momentum of development. We have high expectations for the Chinese market and are expanding new business,” Guang Wei, director of BDA product marketing sales at Panasonic, told the Global Times on the sidelines of the Big Data Expo 2023 in Guiyang.

Such a sentiment has also been echoed by many at the ZGC Forum, where many foreign businesses and scholars talked about the vast potential and opportunity China presents. And they are about to further see a greater potential in China through a bigger platform. With construction work for the permanent site of the ZGC Forum expected to wrap up in August 2023, the 65,000-square-meter venue with modern, green and high-tech features will officially open its doors to welcome more domestic and global guests for next year’s forum.

CT Bureau

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