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Innovation can be good area for Sino-US cooperation

By Zhao Huanxin | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-28 08:28

Is there any similarity between the speech delivered by President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, on Oct 18, and the National Security Strategy launched by US President Donald Trump on Dec 18?

The two are anything but symmetrical. Xi's speech was the keynote address to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which charted the course for the country's future development, while the US Congress-mandated document outlines the Trump administration's appraisal of the US' security interests and the ways to safeguard them.

Yet the two documents have a striking common factor: the emphasis on innovation. And innovation is an area the two countries have much to cooperate on.

Trump's first National Security Strategy mentions innovation at least 30 times, more than double the number in the strategy his predecessor Barack Obama announced in 2015. And innovation finds more than 50 mentions in Xi's landmark speech.

While Xi emphasized that innovation is the primary driving force for development and the strategic underpinning for building a modern economy, Trump stressed that innovation has been key to the US' greatness and indispensable to American prosperity and power.

Both presidents have vowed to maintain and maximize their respective country's innovation and technological edge, by making advancements in science and technology, and nurturing and retaining inventors and innovators. Specifically, Trump and Xi have pledged to prioritize innovation in aerospace and emerging technologies that are critical to economic growth and national security.

In addition, Trump's call to spur innovation in new materials, new energy, artificial intelligence and biomedicine is identical to those specified in the Government Work Report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang at the annual national legislative session early this year.

Although they might have accorded similar importance to innovation, the difference in the two countries' ingenuity levels is huge-at least in terms of research and development expenditure and human resources. The US is by far the world's biggest spender: It spent as much as 2.8 percent of its gross domestic product on R&D in 2015, while China spent 2.1 percent, according to the 2015 UIS Innovation Data Collection, the latest survey released by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics in April. And the US has a much bigger GDP than China.

In terms of human resources, the US had 4,232 researchers per 1 million people in 2014, while China had only 1,113, according to the UNESCO report. Given its increasing economic clout, China is expected to catch up with the US in R&D expenditure in the near future, as it had an astonishing average annual growth rate of 18.3 percent in R&D spending, the UNESCO report said. But in human resource R&D, China has a long way to go to catch up with the US, which boasts the world's best strategy in recruiting and retaining talent, as well as cultivating world-class scientists and technologists.

That is the key to addressing a glaring deficiency in China, where about 72 percent of innovation-oriented companies said the lack of qualified personnel was a big barrier to innovation, according to the UNESCO report.

That the Chinese and US presidents give the same level of importance to innovation means it could be an important area of cooperation between the two countries, which have already committed to advancing the renewal of the historic 1970s Science & Technology Agreement while strengthening joint scientific research, and finding ways for province-state cooperation on technological innovation, according to an action plan issued after the first US-China Social and Cultural Dialogue in late September.

The dialogue is one of the four Cabinet-level dialogues agreed by the two presidents at their Mar-a-Lago meeting in April. Under the action plan, Beijing and Washington will also encourage their businesses to cooperate in areas of innovation and entrepreneurship, and their technology-driven think tanks to exchange ideas and plans.

The author is deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily USA.

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