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The Chinese Research Landscape

Located in East Asia, China is the most populous country in the world with 1.37 billion people. It is also the fastest-growing country measured by the hard indicators of economic growth. During 2012, business R&D spending in China grew by 35,8% (the highest rate globally), while overall China’s research intensity has tripled since 1998, whereas at the same time Europe’s barely increased. R&D spending in China is dominated by the business sector (responsible for almost 75% of the R&D investment in 2012).

China has a highly centralised research system organised and controlled by the central government. It is composed of three parts in an administrative hierarchical order: the top decision-making body (the State Council, particularly the National Steering Group for S&T and Education), the implementing and coordinating agencies (such as the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Education, and other ministries and agencies), and R&D performing institutions (universities, research institutes, and enterprises). In general, China’s R&D governing structure is effective and stable for the design and implementation of research and innovation policies. Decisions related to S&T go through agencies and organisations in a hierarchical order. The National Steering Group for S&T and Education in the State Council is the highest ranked organisation in China that coordinates all education, research, and innovation-related activities. It has nine member ministries or agencies:

  1. Ministry of Science and Technology,
  2. Ministry of Education,
  3. Ministry of Finance,
  4. National Natural Science Foundation of China,
  5. Chinese Academy of Sciences,
  6. Chinese Academy of Engineering,
  7. National Development and Reform Commission,
  8. Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence, and
  9. Ministry of Agriculture.

Formerly known as the State Science and Technology Commission, MOST (the Ministry of Science and Technology) is the leading ministry and works with other ministries or agencies to coordinate S&T activities. In particular, MOE (Ministry of Education) plays a role in policies for S&T talent and managing R&D activities in universities; MOF helps to develop fiscal policies to promote R&D activities especially in enterprises; NSFC develops S&T programmes and provides funding for basic and some applied research; CAS comprises high-level research institutes and, together with CAE, has academic divisions of science and engineering; NDRC develops strategies and policies with a focus on the economic and social aspects of S&T; CSTIND and MOA manage R&D activities related to defence and agriculture respectively.

The current main guiding policies for Science, Technology and Innovation include the Medium and Long Term S&T Development Plan (2006-2020) and the Five-Year-Plans for Science and Technology Development (current plan 2011-2015). These plans aim to transform China into an innovative society by 2020. Critical challenges in environment, energy, agriculture, employment and indigenous innovation capabilities have being ranked as of highest importance. In this direction, focus will be on breakthroughs that are required in biotechnologies, ICT, new materials, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, marine science, laser technology, and aerospace technologies.

EU-China Cooperation in Research and Innovation

With the Chinese S&T and innovation system developing extremely fast and dynamically, China has become a major new actor in the global system for the production of knowledge. This fact has strengthened ties with the global S&T community, propelling international cooperation in S&T with China to high on the EU’s agenda. The first EC-China S&T Cooperation Agreement was signed in 1998 providing a political, legal and administrative framework for coordinating and facilitating cooperative S&T activities between European legal entities and international partners. The signed S&T agreements do not focus only on the Framework Programs but have broader objectives, aiming to promote and support mutually beneficial research activities in a variety of areas, such as tackling the specific societal challenges (ERAWatch China report, 2011) identified in China:

  1. Health, demographic change & wellbeing;
  2. Food security, sustainable agriculture & bio-based economy;
  3. Secure, clean & efficient energy;
  4. Smart, green and integrated transport;
  5. Climate action and resource efficiency including raw materials;
  6. Inclusive, innovative and secure societies.

An important aspect of the S&T agreements is the reciprocity of access to the technological development and research activities undertaken by both parties, and implementing activities that have been agreed upon in Steering Committees of the S&T agreements. This is another area that due to the complexity of the Chinese regulations is not yet sufficiently explored, and requires further elaboration and promotion.

The EU-China S&T agreements place an important focus on S&T policy dialogue, which is currently implemented primarily by an important initiative, the Strategic Forum for International S&T Cooperation (SFIC). SFIC is a high level forum supporting the bilateral dialogue and is composed by representatives of the EU Member States and the Commission (DG RTD). SFIC’s mandate is “to facilitate the further development, implementation and monitoring of the international dimension of ERA”, by sharing information, identifying objectives, proposing and coordinating joint activities.

Today, the Sino-European cooperation shows growing dynamism. China and the EU cooperate in multilateral programmes and projects involving many countries which are often designed to tackle major global scientific challenges. Examples include the Human Genome Project, which had 20 partners and a budget of €2 billion, and ITER – a €10 billion collaboration between the EU, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Russia and the USA. Bilateral programmes and centres, which are funded by the Chinese and partner governments or by research councils in both Europe and China, are also ubiquitous. For example, both the French and German governments have set up several joint centres that fall into this category. Research fellowships and travel scholarships support students, postgraduates and more experienced scientists to study and work abroad. These are a crucial way of building networks that can sustain other forms of collaboration in the long term. Most European countries operate their own schemes. One of the most successful is run by the Humboldt Foundation in Germany which has so far produced over 20,000 scientists and boasts 35 Nobel Prize laureates.



DRAGON-STAR & DRAGON-STAR Plus aim to raise awareness of the growing partnership opportunities for Chinese and European researchers and innovators as well as enriching the policy dialogue in science, technology and innovation. The project promotes cooperation between the EU and China across the science, technology and innovation chain to support and encourage their mutual prosperity, address common societal issues and meet global challenges in the most effective and efficient way possible: together.

It focuses on the joint priority theme areas of Urbanization, ICT, and AgroFood. For more information please visit: DRAGON-STAR

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