China spent a record 2.2 trillion yuan on R&D in 2019 but needs to do more to escape US tech strangulation

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a group of people standing in a room: A promoter dressed to look like an astronaut walks past a robot at the China Beijing International High Tech Expo in Beijing, China on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. Photo: AP


© AP
A promoter dressed to look like an astronaut walks past a robot at the China Beijing International High Tech Expo in Beijing, China on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. Photo: AP

Whatever the outcome of the upcoming US elections, most analysts agree that the tech rivalry between the US and China is unlikely to let up any time soon and therefore Beijing is expected to keep doubling down on its catch-up efforts.

China’s Ministry of Science and Technology last week vowed once again to look carefully at how the work of researchers is evaluated, ensuring that the focus is on research that “achieves real performance” as opposed to simply counting the number of publications.

This is part of Beijing’s wider drive to close a core science gap with the US and reduce its dependence on imported technology. Measures to revise the evaluation of researchers began in 2018 as part of a push to address a “paper-only” mindset and cover other criteria, such as academic titles, degrees attained and awards.

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Zhang Yewen, a professor of electrical engineering at Tongji University in Shanghai, said that although some progress had been made, awards are still being made to some scientists simply for having papers accepted by influential journals. Zhang said this needs reform although he acknowledged it cannot be stopped altogether.

“If you don’t refer to any of the four criteria, including which journal someone is published in, how can you evaluate their work,” said Zhang. “These judgments can only be made within a very small scientific circle and the public might not be aware of how we do this.”

World can benefit from China science

Amid the tech and trade war, China is