Back to business and highlights ahead of a digital and intensive autumn

After a well-needed summer break – with both relaxion and reflections, Office of Science and Innovation (OSI) Beijing is back to business. China never takes summer break and this summer has been more intensive than ever – given the need for a...

After a well-needed summer break – with both relaxion and reflections, Office of Science and Innovation (OSI) Beijing is back to business. China never takes summer break and this summer has been more intensive than ever – given the need for a quick Covid-19 recovery, in a fast-changing and highly complex policy environment. Looking ahead, our bilateral exchange and cooperation activities with China in this autumn will remain largely digital. But a clear difference will be a higher intensity as the effort to search for a sustainable and innovation-driven Covid-19 exit is under way, in China, in Sweden and globally.

To follow China’s new thinking on and new approach to the Covid-19 exit strategies and actions, OSI Beijing’s monitoring, analysis and innovation promotion work will focus on the following highlights, which  we would like to share with you in this “opening blog” ahead of an intensive, but stimulating autumn.

Science and innovation in a new economic policy narrative

China has put forward its new economic policy narrative in a post Covid-19 era, namely:

  • A stronger priority on “internal circulation”, i.e. the domestic supply-demand system.
  • A more balanced “dual circulation” development model, i.e. strengthened domestic market (internal circulation) and less reliance on export markets (external circulation).  

In the on-going policy discussions ahead of the 14th Five-Year-Plan (2021- 2025), both the internal circulation and the dual circulation will be a further boost of China’s digital transformation along production and value-chains[1], which has already accelerated during the Covid-19 outbreak.

In such a context, what role will science and innovation play in enhancing the internal circulation and balancing the dual circulation? How will China manage to boost its internal circulation while at the same time ensuring that the future internal circulation will be a healthier and more sustainable one? Furthermore, while balancing the dual circulation, can China contribute more to the global sustainable transformation? 

Basic research for frontier science and for core competitiveness

More than ever, basic research will be a high priority on China’s policy agenda. Frontier science is no longer only for China’s international ranking of research papers. But the most strategic tool for China’s progress in original innovation and industrial transformation – with core competence and competitiveness. Even more interestingly, basic research engages not only the research community, but increasingly also the business sector as well as the general public. The new trend and broader engagement can be illustrated in the latest list of “10 frontier scientific questions”, which was  put forward by the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) as below:

  1. Biological mechanism for the interspecies transmission of coronaviruses
  2. Gravitational wave
  3. The evolution of material on Earth
  4. Next generation nuclear energy
  5. Special energy fields
  6. Digitized transportation infrastructure and self-driving vehicles
  7. How traditional Chinese medicine moderate human immunity
  8. The biological basis of plant apomixis
  9. Water management and security
  10. Virtual model of the physical world

Science and innovation – an even more strategic pivoting power for digitalization

While China’s ongoing digital transformation is mainly driven by large-scale and wide-scope applications, the next phase of China’s digital leap will be moving from “digital technology applications” to ”integrated digital reconstruction”, including the following 5 key “ + “ as combined driving forces for an accelerated and deepened transformation (See Figure below).

Given the above updated strategy, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) is aiming to increase support in the fields of:

  • Frontier technologies and core technologies related to digital transformation and material sciences.
  • Policies and measures to improve the innovation environment and talent development for digital transformation.
  • Guidance and technical support for new cooperation and business models that have shown great potential in the battle against Covid-19.

Science and innovation for sustainability – go digital and go deep green

According to some Chinese analysts, China’s initiative on “new infrastructure development” as a key component of the post Covid-19 recovery has already many “green elements”, particularly in the fields of low-carbon transportation and energy system. Also, the digital infrastructure will serve as a fundamental enabler for a  more radical green transformation in, for instance, the industrial sectors.  

While both the key UN events in the fields of climate change (COP 26) and Biodiversity (COP15, with China as host country) are postponed from 2020 to 2021, we still see some very active policy debates as well as concrete and innovative measures that bring China’s and global interests and actions closer. For instance:

  • Alongside with efforts to reduce PM 2.5, more and more attention now is paid to both VOCs and Ozone reduction as complementary measures for air quality improvement. Sweden and China have carried out deep research cooperation on this topic in the past years.
  • As China’s Solid Waste Law will come into effect and more detailed measures for reducing plastic pollution will be launched in 2020, we see more and more actions in these fields both at the national and local levels in China. This will in turn open up many new opportunities for Sweden-China cooperation in policy exchange as well as innovation and business promotion.
  • 2020 is also a critical year for China’s domestic climate actions, particularly in terms of the development of China’s own emission trading system (ETS). Faced by the huge economic losses caused by both floods and draughts, China aims to become a global green finance leader, as well as a green technology leader in terms of both climate mitigation and climate resilience. Environmental monitoring and early warning systems are already helping businesses and communities in China to better respond to extreme weather events. Big data and machine learning are also to be developed to predict floods and other natural hazards.

From the above highlights, we do see the relevance and synergies between these policy initiatives in China and Sweden’s Innovation Partnership Programs (Samverkansprogram), which OSI Beijing will have a close dialogue with and provide input to on a regular basis in this autumn. In addition, we also see the relevance and importance of our ongoing analytical work that we will be able to communicate more broadly soon, together with our Swedish and European partners and colleagues:

  • Our technical support to a very important EU-project on identifying China’s priorities in science and innovation in the 13th Five-Year-Plan (FYP), which in turn, can help us better identify and understand the forthcoming 14th FYP, not least in the context of the Horizon Europe and the future EU-China cooperation on science and innovation. Our Science Officer, Jessica Zhang is taking lead on this important supporting task.
  • Our monitoring and analysis on China’s FinTech Sector with a focus on its innovation capacity development and increasing contribution to green finance, as our inputs to the Growth Analysis’ (Tillväxtanalys) assignment from the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation of Sweden. Our Innovation Advisor, Linnea Yang is the “brain” behind this analysis of great interest from a Swedish perspective.
  • Our new country report on China’s Environment, Climate and Energy Policy – with updated information ahead of China’s 14th FYP as well as with an attempt to bring the key observations and conclusions into a comparative context with Sweden’s 16 Environmental Objectives (Miljömålen) and the Generation Goal. Our Environment Officer, Matilde Eng is bringing her knowledge from both the Chinese and the Swedish sides together – with new perspectives and insights.

Both looking back and ahead, Covid-19 cannot stop, but should trigger for a sense of urgency and a sense of mission – to go beyond our fear and complacency. Hopefully, we will see the take-off of a global effort for a sustainable and innovation-driven Covid-19 recovery this autumn. We will follow this effort in China closely – with a particular focus on its implications and the opportunities that it will bring to Sweden-China cooperation in science and innovation for sustainability!  

Nannan Lundin, Jessica Zhang, Linnea Yang and Matilde Eng