economy, even in the face of an extended global economic recession. Nevertheless, China must contend with significant challenges, which include currency inflation, outsized global trade surpluses, corruption, high unemployment and income disparities, projected resource constraints, and sustainable development challenges, as well as the potential for a decline in China’s economic growth rate. China’s recent advances in S&T proficiency satisfy only a fraction of the broader national need for development. A critical aspect of China’s continuing economic and S&T transformation is the phased-in promotion of economic development and modernization across China’s vast and disparate territory, as envisioned in China’s “Go West” strategy. If successful, this strategy has the potential to support an economic, industrial, and S&T expansion for decades to come (The Economist, 2010). Today, much of China’s scientific community remains set apart from the market-driven dynamic that characterizes the country’s coastal economic zones and foreign-invested enterprises. This and other systemic challenges lead some observers to be more skeptical about the sustainability of China’s fast-paced expansion in both economic and S&T capabilities.
China is an authoritarian state with a centrally planned economy, enabling it to quickly enact S&T policies. But such systems are vulnerable to problems such as excessive waste, redundancy, corruption, and difficulty in altering or reversing course mid-plan. In recognition of these limitations, Chinese state plans have evolved from strict, quantitatively driven mandates to “guidelines” and encourage more collaborative approaches to decision making. For example, when developing its medium- and long-term plan (MLTP), China brought in an array of domestic and international experts to assist in determining what and how to prioritize future S&T development.
In China, the pursuit of scientific and technological endeavors is considered a worthy ambition, as well as the answer to societal and environmental problems. Scientists, engineers, academics, and increasingly entrepreneurs are valued in Chinese society and economy, and China’s present leaders are considered to be technocrats. Recent surveys suggest strong popular support among Chinese citizens for scientific pursuits, with 74 percent of Chinese responding positively to the idea that “even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research which adds to knowledge should be supported by government” (NSB, 2010, p. 7-30). Promoting widespread scientific literacy is also a key priority. In 2006, China implemented an “Action Plan to Increase the Population’s Understanding of Science.” This plan, the first of its kind in modern China, is expected to be implemented through 2020 (Chen et al., 2009).
Although endowed with a broad enthusiasm for science, China remains a largely risk-averse, collective-oriented culture. This has hampered some efforts at adopting Western-style entrepreneurism and innovation, and in response China’s government has instituted policies and programs that promote more risk-oriented financial and organizational ventures. Other initiatives, such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Knowledge Innovation Program, promote high-profile or interdisciplinary innovation. What these approaches will yield and how Chinese innovation will look compared to Western innovation is unclear, both to Western analysts and China’s own leaders. China’s adaptability and willingness to learn from other nations, however, will be essential to its S&T advancement. China’s “Go Abroad” policy (to enhance domestic firms’ brand, R&D assets, and technology access) was implemented to overcome these technology gaps and to enhance China’s continued, long-term access to global investment, technology, and know-how.
China’s economic growth and subsequent investment in S&T is transforming it into a regional and global hub for not only industrial production but increasingly also for industrial R&D, and to a lesser extent, basic research. As a partner with many of the world’s leading economies and global corporations, China appears to be finding it easier to catch up to the forerunners and is doing so at an unprecedented pace. The question remains whether and how China will attain S&T leadership.
China’s S&T investment strategy is ambitious and well-financed but highly dependent on foreign inputs and investments. Many of its stated S&T and modernization goals will be unachievable without continued access to and exploitation of the global marketplace for several more decades. China plays a critical role in low- and select high-tech industry production and logistics chains, but it cannot (yet) replicate these processes domestically. As such, China has become an increasingly critical node in U.S. commercial and, in some cases, defense production