Policy ForumInnovation Policy

Challenges of S&T system reform in China

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Science  10 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6329, pp. 1019-1021
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal2515

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By many measures, Chinese scientific and technological (S&T) development is surging forward at a remarkable rate. Yet, Chinese political leaders have shown increasing impatience, concerned that the research and innovation systems that emerged after reforms from the mid-1980s through the 1990s focused on “technological catch-up” rather than genuine innovation. Concerns arose that the research culture was one of derivation, dependent on basic discoveries made elsewhere, rather than creativity (1). Policies since 2013 have thus intended to radically reform the nation's research institutions and broader innovation system. A comprehensive national innovation strategy in 2016, backed by full political commitment to reform, aimed at turning China into an S&T powerhouse by 2050. Yet many in the technical community might argue that the trajectory of Chinese S&T is already an upward one and that, with patience, the maturing system will produce many of the desired political objectives. There are questions about whether the new policies promise new problems, and whether they ignore deeper underlying obstacles (2).