A few days before the 101st anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the 25th anniversary Hong Kong's return to China, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived at Wuhan, a hub for science and technology-related academic and business institutes with a relatively high density of talents in central China, for an inspection tour. The tour highlighted the great significance of innovation-driven strategy, keeping the lifeline of science and technology (S&T) firmly in China's own hands, and making the country's development more independent, self-reliant and secure.
And the key to this effect is the innovation-driven development strategy, firstly originated in Mid-and-Long Term S&T Development Program published in 2006, promoted to one of China's national strategies in the CPC's 18th National Congress in 2012, and then promulgated as a top-level-designed formal national strategy for "innovation-driven development" in 2016. As a scholar who took part in the drafting of all these series documents argued, the launch of the national strategy and the implementation of other related supporting measures have ushered in a new stage for China's high-quality development with S&T innovation being the strategic hold. The program of 2016 has clearly stated that the general principles include to stick to the development issues, to break down the obstacles, to enrich the incentives and to make full use of globalization in terms of ideas exchange and the making of rules.
As per the strategic goals of the program, a three-step tactic has been depicted, with the years of 2020, 2030, and 2050 being the key timing. By 2020, China was expected to be ranked in innovative countries, roughly at top 15-20 countries in accordance with the Global Innovation Index (GII). In reality, this goal has already been realized as China is now ranking the 12th on the GII, according to the press conference held by the CPC Publicity Department on the same day of President Xi's inspection in Wuhan. By 2030, China is aiming at entering top 10 cohort in the GII, with R&D investment taking 2.8 percent of the GDP, roughly about the average level of the OECD countries. And by 2050, China is expected to become one of the core leading and highly competitive countries and S&T innovation centers of the world, with innovation being the key element of policy-making and institutional arrangement as well as the buttressing pillar for the rejuvenation of Chinese nation.
History can help prove the wisdom and timeliness of this strategy, which has been placed as one of the priorities and major concerns by different generations of the Party leadership. In one of his famous speeches exploring the origins of the backwardness of modern China, Mao Zedong attributed that to two factors. One was the incompetence of outdated socioeconomic and political systems, resulting from the ancient imperial system plus the feudalist land ownership that lasted for over two thousand years. The other one was the lag in S&T, resulting from the serious inadequacy of the investment toward modern scientific research and development practices.
China had actually suffered this under-developed condition for more than one hundred years since mid-19th century when Western powers were enjoying the fruits of Industrial Revolution. What is more, it was shocking to the founding leaders of the PRC that new China could not even produce a tiny screw in its early days while other developed industrialized countries, although suffering a lot after through the WWII, had already made significant breakthroughs in strategic and frontier fields such as atomic energy, outer-space exploration, and military technology, and begun to prepare for the next round of S&T revolution.
The undergoing great cause of China's reform and opening-up de facto started in 1975 when Deng Xiaoping, as the deputy premier, made a series of efforts to reshape the Party's authority, reinstall Chinese society's respect for S&T and researchers, and re-stimulate Chinese development by catching up the frontiers. His famous argument that science and technology are the primary productive forces has since become the maxim of the CPC reform-minded leadership's perception of the significance of S&T upon the China's long-term development. What we have seen now, such as the great achievements in areas like outer-space exploration, information technology, new energy, new materials and robotization, are direct consequences of the National High-tech R&D Program, aka 863 Program, as it was first proposed by a group of senior scientists in March 1986 and promptly ratified in November of the same year by the CPC Central Committee. The 863 Program has fulfilled all its historical tasks and come to an end, immediately followed by the aforementioned national innovation program issued in 2016.
Since the CPC's 19th National Congress in 2017, the central leadership with President Xi Jinping as the core has been attaching more importance to S&T innovation, especially the cultivation of China's own talent pool that can produce original ideas, conduct fundamental breakthrough and develop leading technologies without relying on others. To achieve this goal, innovations in only S&T fields are not enough. Innovations and transformations in systems and mechanisms related to S&T fields are equally indispensable. Hence, there comes the continuous emphasis of double-wheel driven, and in turn the equal attentions on both development and security. It's the second time that President Xi visited Wuhan since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Last time he talked about safety, this time as well; last time the focus was on the safety of people's livelihoods threatened by a natural virus, this time the security of high-quality development imperiled by man-made virus – the trend of anti-globalization and unjust technical barriers. But China will succeed on its own, even facing headwinds, as it always does.
（Xia Lu is an associate professor at the School of Marxism Studies and a research fellow at the National Academy of Development and Strategies, Renmin University of China.）
Innovation, key to China's high-quality development