Vital to be self-reliant in science and technology


Clearing the technology bottlenecks created by foreign entities is necessary for China to become self-reliant in science and technology, and build a modern socialist society by 2035.

China adheres to an innovation-driven development policy, and has vowed to become self-reliant in science and technology, strengthen basic research, achieve breakthroughs in core technologies, promote innovation, better protect intellectual property rights, and make greater efforts to transform the country into a science and technology powerhouse.

Problems in science and tech sectors

In terms of scientific and technological development, China still faces various problems because its industries are "big but not strong enough" and it is dependent on imports for key technologies and general science and technology devices. The tardy development of its biological and medical equipment sector also poses a problem. And with foreign countries imposing restrictions on their exports of strategic and technological products and services, China could be "seized by the throat".

Therefore, China needs, more than any time in the past, to become self-sufficient in advanced science and technology if it wants to consolidate the advantages of its competitive industries, and continue to develop its core sectors.

Over the past 30 years, China's development has largely relied on using the technological achievements of developed countries. China adopted this "go-after strategy" because of the circumstances and demands of the time. But if China continues to follow the "go-after strategy", the technological development gap between the country and the developed world will further widen, and Chinese industries remain at the low end of the industrial chains for a long time.

That's why President Xi Jinping has been stressing the need to explore different fields and forge key technologies with Chinese advantages.

The "two bombs and one satellite" (the atomic bombs, missiles and satellite) policy helped China implement an asymmetric "catch-up strategy". In recent years, by following this strategy, China has made major scientific and technological achievements including building the Tiangong space station and the Jiaolong manned submersible craft.

Some advanced economies attach great importance to quantum technology, with the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the European Union launching strategic action plans for developing quantum technology.

The US, the global leader in quantum technology, has been spending about $200 million a year over the past decade to promote the development of quantum technology. Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intel and other high-tech giants have also accelerated their research in this area. As for Japan, it decided in 2013 to invest 40 billion yen ($352 million) to develop quantum information technology over the next 10 years.

The UK devised a national quantum technology plan in 2014, with an annual investment of£270 million ($356 million) to establish four quantum research and development centers for communications, sensing, imaging and computing technologies. And in 2016, the EU announced a 10-year flagship quantum technology initiative with a budget of €1 billion ($1.13 billion).

In recent years, China has increased its investment to develop quantum technology. At the 19th General Conference of Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the 14th General Conference of Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering in May 2018, President Xi emphasized the need to achieve more breakthroughs in quantum technology, and use new-generation information and communications technology such as artificial intelligence, quantum information, mobile communications, the internet of things and blockchain to promote innovation in the sector, further affirming the strategic importance of quantum technology.

In August 2016, China launched the world's first quantum scientific experiment satellite, "Mozi Quantum Satellite". It was the first in the world to realize high-speed satellite-ground quantum communication and build a quantum communication network.

After years of efforts, China has laid a good foundation for transforming itself into an innovation-driven economy and a science and technology powerhouse. China has the ability and resources to make extraordinary scientific and technological achievements, which will not only strengthen its advantages in international scientific and technological competitions, but also boost its economic development and improve people's livelihoods and health, and bolster its national defense.

From 'three fronts' to 'four fronts'

At a national science and technology innovation conference in May 2016, President Xi proposed that the focus of science and technology development be on "three fronts"-frontier science and technology, the main economic battlefield, and major State needs. Presiding over a symposium of scientists in September 2020, Xi added another front to the "three fronts" to include technologies aimed at improving people's lives and health, which highlights the importance of people's lives and health in the national science and technology development policy and reflects China's people-centered philosophy for national governance in the new era.

But to achieve scientific and technological breakthroughs on the "four fronts", China should not depend on foreign scientific and technology.

First, it should improve the top-level design for implementing the asymmetric "catch-up strategy", and give full play to the advantages of its socialist system, which would enable it to mobilize resources to accomplish major tasks, and guide the scientific and technological sectors to achieve breakthroughs in key areas in which China can be "seized by the throat" by foreign countries through innovation.

Second, China should strengthen the "foundation projects" of the asymmetric "catch-up strategy", and accelerate research while making greater efforts to develop technologies in which it faces bottlenecks, in order to guide academic work toward innovation, and consolidate their achievements in science and technology.

And third, it should build an efficient mechanism for allocating scientific and technological resources, and build a national innovation-promotion system, cultivate a group of entrepreneurial scientists, strengthen the construction of the talent training chain, better coordinate cooperation between production and academic work, so as to effectively integrate and optimize the allocation of science and technology resources, avoid dispersive, inefficient, repetitive research, and take measures to facilitate breakthroughs in key and core technologies.

Liu Li is a professor at the School of Marxism, Tsinghua University; and Liu Lei is an associate professor at the Business School, Jiangxi University of Science and Technology.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.