【International Online Internship Program, CGSS-CUC】China’s Innovative Spirit - unleashing the full potential of technological innovation

Press time:2020-11-20Number of views:14

Franziska Maja Scholz

PhD student at the Institute for a Community with Shared Future (ICSF) 

Communication University China   


Technological innovation influences a myriad of aspects of a country’s economic and political relations. 

Civilisations, dynasties, kingdoms, empires and states that verifiably have pushed the technological innovation frontier and prevailed global influence have all ultimately and concurrently lost both their technological and global superiority.

A direct consequence for countries from Robert Solow’s macroeconomic research, entails finding ways to swiftly stimulate technological advances to be able to push the technological frontier.[1] Mark Taylor deduces that countries with a „creative insecurity“ - that is „the positive difference between the threats of economic or military competition from abroad and the dangers of political-economic rivalries at home“ are more likely to revolutionise economic structures from within. This, what Joseph Schumpeter famously defined as „creative destruction“[2] counteracts the influence of mercenary actions that are trying to maintain the existing conditions, thwarting innovation domestically.[3]

When China first opened up in 1979 under Deng Xiaoping the country was in desperate need of foreign technology to revive its growth. Now in times of growing unilateralism and protectionism, China is faced with rising global barriers and President Xi has called for greater domestic innovation, while still firmly adhering to the fundamental policy of opening up. 

Addressing a meeting of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering 2018, President Xi stressed the importance of China’s technological innovation, „Since entering the 21st century, global science and technological innovation has entered into an unprecedented period of intensive activity. A new round of scientific and industrial revolution is reconstructing the global innovation map and reshaping the global economic structure.[4]

The same year, China filed some 1.5 million patents nearly 50% of all globally registered patents, an astonishing triple increase since 2008. And forthe first time ever in 2019, the country overtook the United States, with a further 5.2% increase from 2018 in the filing of international patents.[5] Remarkably this accomplishment entails extensive global ramifications and accentuates the magnitude of China’s dedication, expertise, talent and financial vigour in the science and technology sector. This dynamic likely has the potential to realign and see a reform of the up till now mainly US dominated power structure of the global technological industry.  

Chinese industries have not only caught up to the technological frontier in the conventional areas such as electronics or machinery, but they have indeed been driving forces in emerging technological areas such as advanced nuclear energy, next generation telecommunication technologies, space technology or Artificial Intelligence (AI)[6].  

China’s rise in science and technology (S&T) has not been unwitting as successive Chinese leaderships have considered S&T to be an integral part of the nation’s economic growth and long-term strategic steps have been implemented to advance China’s S&T infrastructure. 

When China introduced a national medium- and longterm programme for S&T development in 2006, it had planned to be a major centre of innovation by 2020, steadily reducing its reliance on foreign technology. This has been accomplished, among other measures, by steadily increasing research and development (R&D) expenditure, now reaching some 2.3% of the GDP, whereas this value had been as low as 0.73% in the 1990s. With these numbers, China is the only country, which continuously has increased the amount of money invested into R&D over the last 30 years[7]. Its course to be a global leader in S&T by 2050 seems to be a possibility within realistic reach as China has moved towards the technological frontier, competing with G7 countries, for which empirical research shows a positive association between industry R&D and economic growth.[8]

Since the 18th CPC Congress in 2012, Chinese leadership has continuously emphasised the importance of innovation for high-quality development and high-quality lives for the people. 

The high-tech hub Shenzhen, home to tech giants like Huawei Technologies, Tencent and DJI became a pioneering „special economic zone“ (SEZ) 40 years ago under Deng Xiaoping’s „reform and opening up“ strategy and heavily contributed to the country’s astonishing economic take-off.  Back then China indubitably was playing catch up in the S&T industry, heavily relying on foreign investment and technology. Today, it is the political vision expressed by President Xito shift the balance by taking Chinese technology , investment and power to the world.Shenzhen, now home to the largest and most influential tech giants is gaining new momentum with Beijing’s efforts transforming the SEZ from low-end industry to high-tech design and manufacturing, transforming it to become one of the world’s most advanced innovation hubs.[9]

Even as Beijing now puts more emphasis in developing its domestic economy, opening up and encouraging cooperation remains China’s fundamental policy. Likewise considering China’s ambitious programme, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); one of its drivers is the development of commoditising high-end technologies such as advanced medical equipment or smart and clean energy systems, ultimately making them more affordable to developing countries. For countries and especially developing nations collaborating with China this yields immense possibilities, albeit China as the bigger player should occasionally be admonished to its pledge, a strategy devoted to a global win-win approach „(…), we must implement an international S&T cooperation strategy that is open and inclusive, mutually beneficial and sharing“[10] as President Xi has frequently accentuated.  

Pakistan could greatly profit from advanced smart and clean energy systems, which China is developing and the bulk (ca 75%)[11] of CPEC projects already completed, is indeed focused on energy development. In a country that had suffered worsening energy shortages for two decades it yields much needed foreign direct investment and development opportunities, while Chinese companies are being faced with dwindling demand for the fossil-fuel technology at home. While solar, hydro and wind powered generation makes up part of the completed CPEC projects, much of the added megawatt range comes from fossil fuel fired capacities. It is the cutting edge technology transfer that Pakistan and other developing nations are in need of to address the “major bottlenecks to their economic and social development”. Nevertheless, with this increase in stability of power and the potential for increase in economic growth, the founding stone for inclusion of cutting edge technology within Pakistan is laid. 

More than that looking at China’s latest launch of 13 satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre on November 6th 2020, too shows the country’s commitment to advance international science and research exchange and cooperation. This launch signifies the first time that a Chinese carrier rocket has taken foreign satellites into space. Ten satellites from Argentinian company Satellogic and three satellites developed by Chinese high-tech companies and research institutes. The „University of Electronic Science and Technology of China satellite, marks a significant  disruptive innovational effort from China assessing the world’s first sixth-generation (6G) communications test satellite.[12]

With international partners, for instance in Pakistan, such as Zong (China Mobile Pakistan), who were the first to introduce 4G and conduct trials for 5G network technologies domestically, heralding a new era in social and economic sectors[13], China’s push of the innovation frontier will ultimately encompass positive spillover and increase the possibility of reaching global digital inclusion at all levels of society.



Creemers, Rogier, Kania, Elsa, Webster, Graham and Rui Zhong. „Xi Jinping's Sept. 2020 Speech on Science and Technology Development (Translation)“. 22 September 2020. New America. https://www.newamerica.org/cybersecurity-initiative/digichina/blog/translation-xi-jinpings-sept-2020-speech-science-and-technology/  

Brummer, Matthew K.D. Tangoing with Schumpeter: The Security Politics of Science & Technology. International Studies Review Advance Article.2 (2017): 1-314.  

Hussain, Javed. “Pakistan on short list of 5G-ready countries with Zong's successful trial”. Dawn,  23 August 2019. https://www.dawn.com/news/1501031

Li, Yanfei. „Understanding China’s technological rise“. The Diplomat 3 August 2018. https://thediplomat.com/2018/08/understanding-chinas-technological-rise/  

Mardell, Jacob. „Die BRI in Pakistan: Chinas Vorzeigeprojekt“. MERICS Mercator Institute for China Studies. 20 Mai 2020 https://merics.org/de/analyse/die-bri-pakistan-chinas-vorzeigeprojekt

Taylor, Mark Z. „The Politics of Innovation: Why some Countries Are Better Than Others at Science & Technology. Oxford University Press, New York (2016). ISBN: 9780190464134 

Solow, Robert. „Technical Change and the Aggregate Production Function.“ Review of Economics and Statistics 39. (1957): 315-320.  

Sylwester, Kevin. R&D and economic growth. Knowledge, Technology & Policy 13.4 (2001): 71-84.  

[1]RobertSolow. „Technical Change and the Aggregate Production Function.“ Review of Economics and Statistics 39. (1957): 315-320.

[2]MatthewK.DBrummer.Tangoing with Schumpeter: The Security Politics of Science & Technology. International Studies Review Advance Article.2 (2017): 1-314.

[3]Mark Z. Taylor. „The Politics of Innovation: Why some Countries Are Better Than Others at Science & Technology. Oxford University Press, New York (2016).



[6]Yanfei Li. „Understanding China’s technological rise“. The Diplomat 3 August 2018. https://thediplomat.com/2018/08/understanding-chinas-technological-rise/

[7] „Is China a Global Leader in Research and Development?“. https://chinapower.csis.org/china-research-and-development-rnd/

[8]KevinSylwester. R&D and economic growth. Knowledge, Technology & Policy 13.4 (2001): 71-84.

[9]Matt Ho, and Guo Rui. „Hi-tech hub Shenzhen faces headwinds as it pushes ahead with innovation ambitions„. South China Morning Post. 26 August 2020. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3098996/hi-tech-hub-shenzhen-faces-headwinds-it-pushes-ahead-innovation

[10] Rogier Creemers, Elsa Kania, Graham Webster, and Rui Zhong. „Xi Jinping's Sept. 2020 Speech on Science and Technology Development (Translation)“. 22 September 2020. New America. https://www.newamerica.org/cybersecurity-initiative/digichina/blog/translation-xi-jinpings-sept-2020-speech-science-and-technology/

[11]Jacob Mardell. „Die BRI in Pakistan: Chinas Vorzeigeprojekt“. MERICS Mercator Institute for China Studies. 20 Mai 2020 https://merics.org/de/analyse/die-bri-pakistan-chinas-vorzeigeprojekt


[13]Javed Hussain. „Pakistan on short list of 5G-ready countries with Zong's successful trial“. Dawn,  23 August 2019. https://www.dawn.com/news/1501031

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