Learning from China

Wednesday, Jun 07, 2023

About three years ago I was conferred the highest science award of China, the International Science and Technology Collaboration Award by President Xi Jinping at a special ceremony in the Great Peoples Hall in Beijing.President Jinping delivered a 90 minute long extempore speech of how education, science, technology and innovation have become the key pillars of the miraculous transformation of China that has catapulted it to the forefront of the global stage.

He described in depth how China has implemented a range of initiatives for China to transition to a knowledge economy, driven by industrial development and innovation. The establishment of innovation hubs, research parks, and industrial clusters has fostered collaboration between academia, industry, and government. For example, the Zhongguancun Science Park in Beijing, often referred to as China’s Silicon Valley, has become a hotbed for technological innovation, attracting both domestic and foreign companies.

In the agriculture sector, China has implemented several measures to enhance productivity, sustainability, and technological advancements in the agricultural sector. The establishment of new institutions such as the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and the China Agricultural University (CAU) have played a pivotal role in driving research and development in agriculture. CAAS serves as a national comprehensive agricultural research institution, focusing on the development of high-yield crop varieties, efficient farming techniques, and advanced agricultural technologies. Similarly, the CAU, one of China’s premier agricultural universities, has contributed to the development of a highly skilled workforce in agriculture.

China has set up a network of national-level engineering research centres (ERCs) to drive innovation and technological advancement in key industries. These centres focus on areas such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, and biotechnology, nurturing expertise and fostering industrial growth. Several national organizations have been established to support science, technology, innovation and commercial manufacture.The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), for instance, plays a vital role in promoting fundamental research across a wide range of scientific fields. It provides financial support to researchers, enabling them to conduct cutting-edge research and develop innovative solutions. The NSFC has contributed to scientific breakthroughs in areas such as biotechnology, renewable energy, and artificial intelligence.

Similarly, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), of which I happen to be an academician, has played a crucial role in fostering scientific excellence and collaboration. As the country’s highest academic institution in natural sciences, the CAS conducts research, provides policy advice, and promotes international cooperation.

The establishment of business incubators, venture capital funds, and entrepreneurship competitions has created a supportive ecosystem for startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In this context, the Torch High Technology Industry Development Center, under the Ministry of Science and Technology, has been instrumental in supporting technological innovation and entrepreneurship. It provides funding, infrastructure, and mentorship to technology-oriented startups, enabling them to develop and commercialize their ideas.

Moreover, the rise of internet-based platforms and e-commerce has facilitated the growth of private enterprises in China. Companies like Alibaba and Tencent have not only revolutionized the domestic market but have also become global tech giants. Their success has inspired a wave of entrepreneurial activities, contributing to the dynamism of China’s private sector.The electronics industry in China too has witnessed remarkable growth over the years, positioning the country as a global manufacturing hub and a major player in the sector. China’s electronics industry has gained an excellent reputation for manufacturing consumer electronic products, including smartphones, televisions, and personal computers. Companies like Foxconn, Huawei, and Xiaomi have become prominent players in the global electronics market.

The Chinese government has implemented policies to support the development of the IT industry. Measures such as tax incentives, funding support, and regulatory reforms have encouraged innovation and entrepreneurship. The government has also launched initiatives to promote digital transformation in various sectors, such as healthcare, finance, and manufacturing, driving the demand for IT solutions and services.China’s vast population and growing middle class have created a massive domestic market for IT products and services. This has attracted both domestic and international companies to establish a presence in China. Internet giants like Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu have played a pivotal role in the growth of China’s IT industry, offering a range of services such as e-commerce, social media, online payment systems, and search engines.

The automobile industry in China presents another shining example. It has experienced exponential growth, transforming the country into the world’s largest automobile market and a major automobile producer. The development of the industry can be attributed to various factors, including government policies, joint ventures with foreign manufacturers, and domestic demand. Furthermore, China has made substantial investments in R&D to develop electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous driving technologies. The government has set ambitious targets for EV adoption and has provided financial support and favourable policies to domestic companies engaged in EV production. This has positioned China as a global leader in EV manufacturing and innovation.

China has also made significant strides in the engineering industry, particularly in areas such as construction, infrastructure development, and heavy machinery manufacturing. The country has embarked on ambitious infrastructure projects, including high-speed rail networks, highways, bridges, and airports. These projects have not only created a massive demand for engineering services but have also provided opportunities for domestic engineering companies to showcase their expertise.

China’s engineering industry has also seen significant advancements in heavy machinery manufacturing. Companies such as Sany, Zoomlion, and XCMG have emerged as global leaders in the production of construction machinery and equipment.

China has prioritized the development and production of indigenous defence equipment, including fighter aircraft, naval vessels, missile systems, and advanced weapon platforms. This includes the J-20 stealth fighter, the Type 055 destroyer, and the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile. China’s latest stealth aircraft is the Chengdu J-20, a fifth-generation fighter jet. While it is considered China’s most advanced stealth aircraft, its specific capabilities are still subject to debate due to limited information available. The J-20 features stealth characteristics, advanced avionics, and long-range capabilities. However, it may not possess the same level of sophistication as its American and European counterparts in terms of stealth technology and overall performance.

All the above developments became possible because China implemented a series of measures to promote higher education, science, and technology, recognizing their critical role in driving economic growth, innovation, and the creation of a strong knowledge economy. These measures encompass various aspects, including investment in research and development (R&D), fostering international collaborations, enhancing educational infrastructure, and incentivizing talent development.

In Pakistan we need a visionary, honest and technologically competent government to reproduce the Chinese economic miracle.

The writer is the formerfederal minister for science

and technology and former founding chairman of the HEC. He can be reached at: