Clearing technology bottlenecks to promote innovation

Over the past years, China has emerged as a science and technology powerhouse, and it is fast catching up with the developed world, including the United States.

China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) kicks off the construction of the national technology innovation hub. [Photo/IC]

As the Bureau of Industry and Security, an agency of the US State Department, added seven Chinese supercomputing companies to the sanctions list on Thursday for allegedly conducting activities contrary to US national security and foreign policy interests, an expert with China's Ministry of Commerce responded saying the US' relentless sanctions against Chinese technology companies are like mosquito bites that will not disrupt the pace of its high-tech development.

The US statement claimed that the seven companies are building supercomputers used by China's military in its modernization efforts and to develop weapons of mass destruction programs, which is old-fashioned US rhetoric, and shows that the US ideology of guarding against China's competition has not changed.

Over the past years, China has emerged as a science and technology powerhouse, and it is fast catching up with the developed world, including the United States. This has raised some Western countries' concern that they could soon lag behind China in the fields of artificial intelligence and quantum technology, and therefore they construe China's advancement in science and technology as a potential threat.

For many Western countries, banning the export of critical components and equipment is a good way of checking the development of China's core technology sector and thus halt its growth as a science and technology power.

In the era of economic globalization, if countries use their comparative advantages, they can boost interconnectivity in commodity trade. But when it comes to strategic and core technologies, developed countries often control their transfer to developing countries on the pretext of safeguarding national security. As a result, many developing countries face unpredictable risks and struggle to clear the bottlenecks in the science and technology sector and maintain steady economic growth.

Advanced and core technologies are critical to a country's scientific and technological development. Similarly, unclogging the technological bottlenecks is important for improving people's livelihoods and safeguarding national security. Owing to the lack of such core, knowledge-intensive technologies, the contributions of innovations in China's scientific and technology sector could remain confined to the upper-tier supply chains, stunting the growth of the intermediaries in the lower-level supply chains.

Without these significant technologies, China cannot build complete industrial and supply chains. Worse, enterprises that depend on core technologies would face strong headwinds caused by the disruptions in the industrial chains due to the weak links.

True, China has a diverse industrial sector with wide-ranging scopes, yet its innovation capacity is relatively limited.

A survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Engineering shows there is a shortage of essential components such as chips, transmitters and fundamental materials, because China has been importing them from other countries such as the US to meet the domestic demand.

Besides, despite China being the largest semiconductor and integrated circuit market in the world, it still imports them to meet 90 percent of the domestic demand. For instance, in 2019, China imported semiconductors worth $305.5 billion, which accounted for 2.2 percent of the country's GDP. This means, in case developed countries stopped exporting chips and semiconductors to China, the country's high-tech sector would suffer a serious blow.

Given the far-reaching impact of technological bottlenecks, the proposals of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) are focused on finding innovative ways to address the problem.

To begin with, since one of the priorities of the government's policy is to enhance strategic capacity and organizational capability, official departments should devise a framework for the next frontier of technological development, while taking measures and increasing funding to put more and more research results to commercial use.

Moreover, academic institutions should play a key role in working out a scientific strategy. Competence in science and advanced technologies, as well as dedicated science labs and research facilities are important for upgrading the traditional technology sector as part of the efforts to enhance China's core competitiveness in strategic areas.

Also, scientific institutions should play a crucial role in basic research, so as to facilitate innovation and make China self-reliant in strategic technologies.

Furthermore, universities and research institutions should cultivate and nurture talents, by designing innovation-oriented training programs, which can also be included in college curriculums. And polytechnic universities should optimize the talent training programs in order to improve enterprises' innovation capability, and spur industrial development.

Given the progress in recent years, China seems to be on the cusp of unclogging the technological bottlenecks and building an innovation-oriented economic architecture.

The author is a researcher at the Institutes of Science and Development, Chinese Academy of Sciences. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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