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Beijing firms up its ambitions in technology and innovation

Zhang Zhihao
Updated: Dec 15,2020 09:42    China Daily

Beijing aims to become a global science, technology and innovation hub by 2025 by providing more incentives for frontier sciences, attracting more global talent, enhancing intellectual property protection and increasing support for small tech ventures, officials and experts said.

Research fields including artificial intelligence, quantum science, medical science, block chain, information technology, the internet of things, materials science, space technology and renewable energy will see more policy support and investment in the nation's capital, they added.

National planners hope to turn Beijing, Shanghai and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area into global science and technology innovation centers, according to the proposals for formulating China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035.

Cai Qi, Beijing's Party chief, told experts at a symposium on Beijing's development in October that the capital will be more open, more innovative and more supportive of tech companies.

Building new infrastructure for artificial intelligence, 5G telecommunication, the industrial internet and internet of things and other major fields will be a priority, which will lay the foundation for upgrading the city's future industries, he said.

Xu Qiang, director of the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission, said this month that Beijing has several advantages that will help it become a global science, technology and innovation hub.

Sui Zhenjiang, vice-mayor of Beijing, said during the Second World Science and Technology Development Forum early last month that the 3,000-year-old city boasts the most scientific talent and resources in the country, as well as having a rich culture of international cooperation, encouraging innovations and tolerating failures.

In 2016, the State Council issued a plan for Beijing to become a national science and technology innovation center. By October last year, the municipality had implemented 30 new policies toward that goal, ranging from granting scientists more autonomy over research grants to streamlining visa applications for foreign scientists.

"Being the nation's capital, Beijing has the responsibility, means, foundations and advantages to facilitate scientific and technological innovation and play its role in serving the nation's modernization process," Sui said.

Around half of the academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering are stationed in Beijing, he said. The city is also home to one-third of China's major scientific instruments, and around 357,000 researchers.

There are 185 researchers for every 10,000 employees in the city, a ratio on par with that of developed countries, he said. The city invests around 6 percent of its GDP in research and development, significantly higher than the average 2.5 percent benchmark for innovative countries, he added.

The World Intellectual Property Organization ranked Beijing this year as the world's fourth-most-active science and technology cluster in terms of publishing and patent performance, behind Tokyo-Yokohama in first place, Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Guangzhou second, and Seoul third.

The Nature Index 2020 Science Cities, published in September, ranked Beijing as the top global science city for the third year in a row after factoring in the concentration of talent, funding, research institutions, and the quality of published scientific papers and international cooperation.

The city's "three science cities and one hi-tech area" — Zhongguancun Science City, Huairou Science City, the Beijing Future Science Park and the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area — have become major hubs for frontier research, Sui said.

About 183 multinational corporations, along with nearly 4,000 foreign companies and research institutions, have either established headquarters in Beijing or are collaborating with partners from the city, he said.

In that ecosystem of international cooperation, Zhongguancun stands out as the forerunner of China's scientific reform and innovations for being the base for nearly 1,000 foreign companies, Sui added.

In 2018, Chinese scientists from the area published 14,074 papers as first authors with foreign peers, accounting for nearly 25 percent of the national total.

In the next few years, Beijing will attract more foreign talent, optimize planning for the science cities, provide more investment for basic research and incubate more innovative tech companies, Sui said.

Since 2018, Beijing has helped over 3,500 foreign scientists settle in the capital by providing better housing, insurance and educational opportunities for their children. Over 4,000 talented foreigners have been granted permanent resident status, making Beijing the first-choice destination for foreign researchers, he said.

The capital has established a fund of 30 billion yuan ($4.58 billion) to support innovation, provided 160 billion yuan in tax breaks for small and medium-sized companies, and streamlined government administration for science project applications and the procurement of research equipment, he said.

In terms of city planning, Zhongguancun will focus on basic and frontier sciences in key technological sectors, Sui said. Huairou will build more major scientific research infrastructure, with an emphasis on materials science, logistics, energy and space technology.

The Beijing Future Science Park will prioritize public health and biosciences research, as well as the commercialization of new technologies.

The Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area will aim to become a hub for high-end manufacturing, such as producing integrated circuits.

At the same time, Beijing will bolster intellectual property rights protection and related services, including harsher punishments for copyright infringements and allowing small tech companies to pledge their intellectual property for loans, Sui said.

Justin Yifu Lin, a senior economist and honorary dean of the National School of Development at Peking University, said in a seminar in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, last week that innovation, collaboration, being green, openness and sharing are the five key characteristics of new development.

The combination of an effective market and a capable government to support businesses is instrumental in achieving quality economic growth, he added.

Yu Jian, deputy director of the Ministry of Science and Technology's department of strategic planning, said at a seminar in Beijing in April hosted by the city's science and technology commission that the capital should set its eyes on becoming a global science and technology center, and create an innovative ecosystem with international influence.

Liu Qiyan, deputy director of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China, said at the seminar that Beijing should enhance its ability to quantify and keep track of tech companies and their resources, and expand the influence of innovation to more local levels.

Li Guoping, president of the Beijing Development Institute at Peking University, said at the same event that innovation cannot do without industrialization, and Beijing's path toward an innovation center will require support from various industries, especially high-end manufacturing.