April 21, 2024

China has reaffirmed its commitment to achieving technological self-sufficiency. The country outlined plans to ramp up the development of cutting-edge fields like quantum computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and big data. 

According to a government work report, Beijing will formulate detailed strategies to nurture these emerging industries as part of broader efforts to reduce dependence on foreign technology.

The report stated that China intends to “launch some major science and technology programs” to meet key strategic goals and bolster industrial development. 

Specific areas of focus include quantum information, AI, big data analytics, and other advanced technologies vital to economic competitiveness.

Centralizing Tech Policy Under Communist Party Control

The emphasis on frontier tech capabilities aligns with China’s intensifying push for self-reliance amid heightened trade frictions and U.S. export restrictions targeting sectors like semiconductors. 

Developing domestic innovation ecosystems has become a national imperative to improve economic resilience and safeguard strategic interests.

China has taken concrete steps over the past year to centralize decision-making around critical technology policies and initiatives. In a sweeping government restructuring, the ruling Communist Party established a new high-level commission to oversee science and technology work. 

The move effectively subordinated the Ministry of Science and Technology under greater party control and oversight. Analysts view centralization as an attempt to streamline coordination across agencies and sectors while aligning resources more effectively with national priorities.

The government views this centralization as lowering coordination costs and increasing the efficacy of targeting key tech development,

Said Doug Fuller, a researcher at Copenhagen Business School. 

However, he cautioned the concentration of power could also hamper information flows and exacerbate asymmetries between policymakers and other stakeholders.

Bolstering China’s STEM Talent Pipeline

Beyond specific technological realms, the work report outlined measures to fortify China’s domestic talent pool in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. 

Plans are in the works to “nurture more first-class scientists and innovation teams” by improving mechanisms to identify and cultivate top-tier researchers and innovators.  

The emphasis on human capital shows China’s determination to build world-class capabilities across strategic domains like quantum information science, AI, aerospace, biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing. 

Developing a robust STEM workforce is viewed as key to driving self-sustaining innovation ecosystems.

Behind these technological development goals is China’s intent to leverage its entire system of national mobilization to marshal resources and raise “innovation capacity across the board.” The report affirmed Beijing’s commitment to fully employing the strengths of its whole-of-nation approach.

This state-led model enables the funneling of funding, policies, and institutional support toward achieving breakthroughs in priority areasChina has demonstrated a willingness to direct resources massively, from cultivating STEM education to bankrolling public-private R&D in frontier fields.

As tensions with the U.S. persist over technology transfers and trade, Beijing appears set to double down on its drive for self-sufficiency – even as it risks fueling techno-nationalist competition. 

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