China’s future strategic competitiveness and the role of research and innovation

A new Chinese phrase, “ka bo zi technology” has emerged – as the result of the stop of supply of some key components and/or technologies by foreign firms to China. A direct translation is “cracking-neck technology”, i.e. vital blockage and damage in production and development. In the figure below, we see the progress and advancement that Chinese firms have made in the global value-chains as well as their vulnerability, because of “Ka Bo Zi technologies”.

Source: McKinsey Global Institute report-China and the world

As another illustration, China Science and Technology Daily has provided 28 specific examples of urgent ‘ka bo zi’ technologies related to China’s manufacturing sector.[1]

As a matter of fact, already in China’s first Medium- and Long-term Science and Technology Plan (MLP, 2006 – 2020) 10 basic research fields were identified as China’s “significant strategic needs” for advancing its innovation capacity. 

The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), in its development plan for the 13th Five-Year Plan Period (2016-2020), identified 118 independent disciplines and 16 interdisciplinary areas as priorities, including quantum information technology, cosmic ray detection, global environmental change, cyber security and optoelectronic devices.

As a more recent development and in the face of the global AI-race, four Chinese ministries (Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Education, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the National Natural Science Foundation) made a joint work plan to strengthen mathematical scienceresearch, stating that mathematics is the foundation of the sciences and major technological innovations.[2] For instance, the government will support institutes and universities to set up Basic Mathematical Centres, targeting major frontier issues.

Early July this year, the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) released 20 frontier scientific issues and engineering problems, which will play a guiding role in China’s future science and innovation development, with particular emphasis on their industrial applications.   

“Ka bo zi technology” thus has become an additional drive for China to strengthen its long-term and strategic resilience and competitiveness, where research and innovation is playing an increasingly central role. China has in the past decades invested heavily in its research and innovation capacity. Faced by the intensified strategic race, it will be of great interest and importance to understand China’s new strategic thinking and actions, for instance, in its forthcoming 14th FYP (2021 – 2025) and in its second Medium- and Long-term Science and Technology Plan (2021 – 2035).  The new thinking and new strategic moves will make China an even more important player in the global research and innovation landscape. The engagement with a more innovative and more competitive China, will be more complex, even challenging – but could also be more rewarding and more mutually beneficial.

With these thoughts, inspirations and questions in mind, the Science and Innovation Office in Beijing is back from the summer vacations and will have an intensive, but exciting period ahead when the global Research and Innovation race is on.  

Nannan Lundin, Linnea Yang and Jessica Zhang