China’s research and innovation policy – key trends to watch in 2019

What does research and innovation mean for China in the years to come? An even greater national pride? A magic bullet to offset the loss from the US-China trade conflicts? A new recipe which prevents China from getting stuck in the middle-income trap?

7 key policy trends related to science and innovation will be the focus of our monitoring and analysis in 2019. They are important not only for China, but also for the outcomes of the bilateral cooperation between Sweden and China:

  • Mass entrepreneurship and innovation 2.0 – how will the ecosystems for innovation and the openness and inclusiveness of ecosystems develop, beyond huge physical investments and a heavy focus on large companies and quick wins? 
  • Structural and institutional reforms for national science and innovation management and funding management – how can these reforms deliver “a high-performing national innovation system” and how can these reforms support international cooperation in terms of transparency, reciprocity and efficiency?
  • IPR and forced technology-transfer have been the major focus of the US-China trade conflicts. The Chinese leaders have made clear commitments for improvement – but how will it work in practice? Are there any real world showcases that can inspire and help Swedish public agencies and Swedish companies when cooperating with China?
  • Stronger focus on higher education, basic research and their links to innovation development, particularly related to “cut throat technologies” and societal challenges. What are the implications of the rapid development in China, such as New Engineering and Technical Disciplines and a new generation of top universities, for talent development in and talent attraction to Sweden (and Europe)? 
  • The world’s first gene-edited babies from China sounded a strong alarm on ethics, science and human development. How will regulations, together with researchers’ and the business sector’s voluntary measures put the agenda of Tech for Social Good at the heart of the development of disruptive technologies, such as genetic engineering and artificial intelligence in China and globally? 
  • While China is facing daunting sustainability challenges in the fields of environment, climate and health, sustainability and innovation are also becoming two integrated and mutually supportive policy agendas in China. How will research and innovation contribute to China’s smart and sustainable transformation? How will China’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement and 2030 Agenda be a driver for China’s transformation towards an innovation-driven nation?
  • Preparations for the second National Medium- and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development (MLP, 2021 – 2035). How will it be different from the first one (MLP, 2006 -2020), given China’s new science and innovation capacity as well as its enhanced global position and responsibility?  

The bottom line:  2019 will be a year of rethinking, refining and revitalising for China’s research and innovation policies. The policy development will be driven by external pressures, internal uncertainties, but most of all, by China’s need to move from high-speed to high-quality growth, from “winners take all” to “science and innovation benefit all”.    

Nannan Lundin & Linnea Yang


*Science and Innovation Office, Beijing would like to thank China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) for kindly providing the “Innovated in China” image for this blog post.