China’s research and development fund reached 1.34 trillion yuan ($211 billion) last year, with the private sector providing 76 percent of the total, according to Wan Gang, the science and technology minister.
“The past five years have seen a structural change in China’s R&D investment. While government investment has increased steadily, private sector investment has risen sharply,” Wan told a conference recently.
The growing fund has provided scientists with easier access to funding, and means their research is more likely to produce breakthroughs that can be turned into commercial products.
Chen Yunji, a professor at the Institute of Computing Technology, is a beneficiary of private R&D investment.
In 2010, Chen and his younger brother Chen Tianshi began developing a new type of semiconductor for computers. By late last year, the chips were ready for commercial production, and the brothers began seeking funding from the private sector.
“The production of computer chips requires a larger amount of initial funding than other procedures such as the development of apps, so it requires private sector involvement,” Chen Yunji said. “Corporate investment can directly quicken the process of transforming the results of sci-tech research into commercial products.”
He acknowledged that many companies are only interested in quick, short-term returns, so some types of fundamental research that have little practical use but may be significant for the future of mankind, such as space exploration or high energy physics, still need government support.
Minister Wan said the growing corporate interest in R&D funding for practical technologies means the government can leave commercial applications to the private sector and focus on investing in projects related to fundamental research and national defense.
Wang Yifang, director of the Institute of High Energy Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said progress requires constant financial input. “The past five years have seen many breakthroughs, but they may have been the culmination of decades of continuous exploration,” he said.