Sept. 22, 2020
This translation is part of the DigiChina Project, based at the Stanford University Cyber Policy Center and a joint effort with New America.
DigiChina convened a group of specialists in China's science and technology policy, and its global context, to provide commentary on this speech, delivered on Sept. 11, 2020. You can read their insights here.
Speech at a Scientists’ Forum
Sept. 11, 2020
Today we have convened a scientists' forum to hear everyone's ideas and suggestions for promoting innovation-driven development and accelerating scientific and technological (S&T) innovation during the period of the 14th Five-Year Plan and beyond. The scientists and S&T workers attending today’s forum come from scientific research institutions, higher education institutions, and enterprises involved in basic research, applied basic research, and applied research, and they include scientists from foreign countries working in China.
Just now, everyone brought in their research areas and proposed valuable ideas to deepen S&T structural reform and accelerate S&T innovation and developmental issues. Please earnestly study and absorb relevant aspects. I will now tie together everyone’s statements and then discuss a few thoughts.
I. Fully recognizing the major strategic importance of accelerating S&T innovation
Since the 18th Party Congress, we have attached high importance to S&T innovation work, and consistently made innovation the first driver of development. Through the collective effort of all of society, our country's S&T undertaking has made historic achievements and seen historic changes. Major innovation achievements emerged in great quantities, a number of frontier areas have entered the stage of running in step and in the lead, S&T forces are transforming from accumulating quantity to leaping ahead in quality, from making breakthroughs in specific points to enhancing systemic capabilities. In the process of resisting the novel coronavirus pandemic, S&T workers at large have launched scientific research assaults in many important areas, such has treatment, vaccine research and development, prevention and control, etc., providing powerful support and making major contributions to the comprehensive advance of epidemic prevention and control, and to economic and social development. I will take this opportunity to express heartfelt gratitude to S&T workers!
At present, the world is undergoing major changes not seen for a century, our country's development faces a domestic and international environment of profound and complex change, and development during our country's "14th Five-Year Plan" period as well as the long-term is raising ever more urgent requirements to accelerate S&T innovation. First, accelerating S&T innovation is necessary for promoting high-quality development. Building modernized economic systems, and promoting transformations in quality, efficiency, and impetus, all require major S&T support. Second, accelerating S&T innovation is necessary to realize high-quality lives for the people. At present, the main contradiction in our country's society has become that between the daily growth in the people's demands for a happy life, and unbalanced and inadequate development. In order to satisfy the people's hopes for happy lives, we must produce ever more S&T innovation achievements that affect the people's livelihood. Third, accelerating S&T innovation is necessary for building a new development pattern. To promote the major domestic circulation, we must persist in the thread of supply-side structural reform, raising the quality and levels of supply, with new supply creating new demand, for which S&T innovation are crucial. To unleash domestic and international dual circulations, S&T strength is also required, to ensure security and stability of industrial chains and supply chains. Fourth, accelerating S&T innovation is necessary for the smooth opening of the new journey of comprehensively building a modern socialist country. From the earliest introduction of the Four Modernizations, to the presently proposed comprehensive construction of a modern socialist power, S&T modernization has always been a major element of our country's realization of its modernization.
Now, our country's economic and social development, and the improvement of the people's livelihood, need S&T solutions and plans more than at any point in the past, and they all need to strengthen a primary driver: innovation. At the same time, in the face of intense international competition, and against the broad backdrop of growing unilateralism and protectionism, we must march an innovation path suited to our national circumstances, we especially must put enhancing our original innovation capabilities in a more prominent position, and we must strive to make ever more "from zero to one" breakthroughs. I hope numerous scientists and technology workers will take up this historical responsibility, determinedly look toward the frontiers of global S&T, look toward the main economic battlegrounds, look toward major national needs, look toward the people's lives and health, and incessantly march forward in the breadth and depth of S&T.
II. Accelerate the resolution of some critical issues constraining S&T innovation and development
Our country possesses a large number of S&T workers and a massive scale of R&D investment and, it is initially equipped to compete on the same stage as the internationally advanced level in some areas. The key is to improve the S&T innovation ecosystem, stimulating innovation and creativity, and for a vast range of scientists and S&T workers to set the stage to display their talents, allowing S&T innovations to emerge continuously.
First, uphold demand orientation and problem orientation. The selection of scientific research topics is the first problem that must be resolved in S&T work. I have often said that the selection of research directions should adhere to demand orientation, starting from urgent national needs and long-term requirements, truly resolving practical problems. Engels said, "Once society has a technical need, this need will advance science more than ten universities.”
At present, our country’s economic and social development, the improvement of the people's livelihood, and national defense construction are confronting many practical problems that must be resolved. For example, with respect to agriculture, we rely heavily on foreign countries for many seeds, and the cultivation and processing technology for agricultural products is relatively backward. In some areas, agricultural non-point-source pollution and heavy metal pollution in cultivated land are serious. As for industry, some critical and core technologies are subject to control by others, and some critical components, parts, and raw materials rely on imports.
With regard to energy resources, the degree of dependence on foreign oil has reached over 70%. Oil and gas exploration and development, and the development of new energy technologies, are insufficient; the unbalanced spatial distribution of water resources has brought many problems. As for society, the aging of our country’s population continues to deepen, and the people's demands for a healthy life have risen continuously. The problem of lagging S&T development in domains such as biomedicine and medical equipment has become increasingly prominent. For technologies in which we can rapidly break through and solve problems in a timely manner, we must step up quickly. For technologies that are strategic and require long timeframes for success, we must deploy for them in advance.
Second, integrate and optimize the allocation of S&T resources. With respect to S&T innovation, the optimal allocation of S&T resources is crucial. The success of "Two Bombs, One Satellite" depended on a group of leading talent, as well as on our country’s powerful organizational system. Among our ranks, we have a large number of scientists, academicians, and world-class scientific research personnel and engineers. We must pay close attention to innovation system construction, undertake optimization, and overcome the disadvantages of fragmentation, inefficiency, and duplication.
We need a batch of talented scientists who effectively leverage scientific research resources. It is necessary to give play to the main role of enterprises in technological innovation, promote the concentration of innovative elements in enterprises, and promote the in-depth integration of production, education, and research. It is necessary to give full play to the advantages of our country’s socialist system that can concentrate its efforts on major tasks, optimize the allocation of advantageous resources, and promote the research on critical and core technologies in important areas. A number of national laboratories should be established, and the existing state key laboratories should be reorganized to form a laboratory system in China. It is necessary to give play to the important role of universities in scientific research, mobilize the enthusiasm of various scientific research institutes, give play to the advantages of abundant talent and orderly organization, and form a strategic force.
Thirdly, persevere in strengthening basic research. Basic research is the source of S&T innovation. Although our country’s basic research has achieved remarkable progress, the gap with the international advanced level is still obvious. The root cause of many "bottleneck" technical problems facing our country is that basic theoretical research cannot keep up, and the source and underlying issues have not been clarified. On the one hand, basic research must follow the laws of scientific discovery, driven by curiosity to explore the mysteries of the world, and encourage free exploration and full exchanges and debates; on the other hand, it must be driven by major S&T problems to abstract theoretical problems from major applied research. Further explore the laws of science, so that basic research and applied research promote each other.
It is necessary to clarify the direction and development goals of our country’s basic research field, and continue to work for the long term. To increase investment in basic research, first of all, state financial investment must increase, and, at the same time, it is necessary to guide enterprises and financial institutions to increase support in appropriate forms, encourage the society to invest in multiple channels through donations and establishing endowments, expand funding sources, and form a continuous, stable investment mechanism. For scientific research units and enterprises that have carried out effective basic research, necessary policy support should be given in terms of finance, banking, and taxation. It is necessary to create a good scientific research ecosystem that is conducive to basic research, establish a sound scientific evaluation system and incentive mechanism, encourage scientific researchers to emancipate their minds and make bold innovations, and allow scientists to concentrate on research. Run first-class academic journals and various academic platforms, and strengthen domestic and international academic exchanges.
Fourth, strengthen education and cultivation of innovative talent. Talent is the number one resource. The country's S&T innovation strength has its roots and origins in people. It takes a decade to grow a tree, but a century to cultivate a person. We must put education in an ever more important position, comprehensively raise the quality of education, and focus on fostering students' innovative mentality and innovative abilities. We must strengthen the build-up of basic disciplines such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology; encourage higher education institutions meeting conditions to vigorously set up basic research and interdisciplinary courses and specializations; strengthen undergraduate training in basic disciplines; and explore models for continuous training between undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels in basic disciplines. We must strengthen the training of top-notch students in basic disciplines, build foundations in disciplines such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, etc., and guide the most excellent students to dedicate themselves to basic research. We must strengthen basic research in higher education institutions, arrange the construction of frontier scientific centers, and develop novel research-type universities. We must respect the natural laws of talent maturation and of scientific research activities, and foster and bring up a batch of strategic S&T talent at international levels, leading S&T talents, and innovative teams. We must give high regard to the maturation of young S&T talent, enabling them to become new principal forces for S&T innovation. We must assemble first-rate talent with a view to the world, attract foreign high-end talent, and provide internationally competitive and attractive environmental conditions for foreign scientists to work in China.
Fifth, rely on reform to trigger S&T innovation vitality. Our country's S&T teams contain enormous innovative potential. It is crucially necessary to effectively release this kind of vitality through deepening S&T structural reforms. Transforming government functioning is an important task in S&T reform. Many of our industrial chains and supply chains need S&T solutions and plans, and these solutions and plans can only be achieved by thousands and thousands of S&T workers and market actors battling in line. What government must do is create a good environment for them, and provide basic conditions, playing a good organizational and coordination role. We must accelerate the transformation of S&T management skills, transfer ever more energy from dividing money, dividing materials, and determining programs to determining strategies, determining guiding principles, and determining policies, as well as creating environments and providing good service. We must accelerate the advance of scientific research institute reform, entrust higher education institutions and scientific research bodies with ever greater autonomy, give leading innovation talent greater decision-making powers over technological pathways and funding use, and firmly eliminate "only papers, only job titles, only CVs, and only awards." We must integrate financial S&T research input mechanisms, and change the situation that departments are fragmented, small, and scattered. We will comprehensively study and consider the issues everyone raises about strengthening S&T power on the whole.
Sixth, strengthen international S&T cooperation. International S&T cooperation is a major trend. We must ever more actively merge into global innovation networks, and enhance our own S&T innovation capabilities, in open cooperation. The more we face the pressure of blockades, the less we will be able to close ourselves off and isolate ourselves. Rather, we must implement an international S&T cooperation strategy that is open and inclusive, mutually beneficial and sharing. On the one hand, we must persist in running our own affairs well, persist in enhancing S&T indigenous innovation capabilities, create stand-outs in a number of advantageous areas, and lay a basis for international cooperation. On the other hand, we must advance international science and research exchange and cooperation with ever more open thinking and measures. Under the present circumstances, we must pragmatically advance international S&T cooperation for global epidemic prevention and control, and public health areas, and launch research cooperation in areas such as drugs, vaccines, monitoring, and other such areas. We must focus on climate change, human health, and other such common problems, and strengthen joint research and development with scientific research personnel in all countries. We must progressively open up to international S&T organizations setting up in our country's territory, and foreign-national scientists taking up positions in our country's academic S&T organizations, making our country into a broad global stage for open S&T cooperation.
III. Forcefully carrying forward the scientist’s spirit
Scientific achievements are inseparable from spiritual support. The scientist’s spirit is a precious spiritual wealth accumulated during a long period of scientific practice by S&T workers. Since the new China was established, S&T workers have raised one monument to S&T innovation after another on the soil of the motherland, and have cast a distinctive spiritual disposition. In May of last year, the Party Center specially published the "Opinions Concerning Further Carrying Forward the Scientist’s Spirit, and Strengthening Work Style and Learning Style Construction," requiring: the forceful carrying forward of a patriotic spirit of cherishing the motherland and serving the people; an innovative spirit of boldly ascending tall peaks and daring to outpace others; a realistic spirit of seeking truth and of rigorous research; a spirit of utter devotion, of indifference to fame and wealth, and of diligent research with a quiet mind; a cooperative spirit of concentrating wisdom to tackle key problems, unity, and collaboration; and an educational spirit of kindly helping others to rise, of rewarding and promoting next-generation students. S&T workers at large must take up the heavy responsibility of S&T innovation, which history has entrusted to them. Here, I will focus on highlighting the patriotic spirit and the innovative spirit.
Science has no borders, but scientists have motherlands. Our country's S&T undertakings have made historical achievements. These are achievements for which generation after generation of scientists, pledged and dedicated to serving the country, have advanced wave upon wave, and struggled continuously. From the older generation of scientists such as Li Siguang, Quan Xuesen, Qian Sanqiang, and Deng Jiaxian, to a great new batch of outstanding scholars who grew up after the establishment of the New China, such as Cheng Jingrun, Huang Danian, and Nan Rendong, they have all been models of the patriotic scholar. I hope that S&T workers at large do not forget their original intention, keep their mission firmly in mind, adhere to the supremacy of the national interest and the people's interest, inherit and carry forward the outstanding character of older generations of scholars who cherished the motherland and served the people, carry forward the spirit of "Two Bombs, One Satellite," actively undertake to bear the heavy burden of historic responsibility, and merge their own scientific pursuits into the magnificent undertaking of building a modern Socialist country.
S&T innovation, and especially original innovation, requires the capability of creative thinking, strict evidentiary methods, non-worship of academic authority, not blindly following existing theories, and daring to challenge boldly, build concrete evidence earnestly, and experiment constantly. Original innovation usually comes from hypotheses and conjectures. It is a complex process of constant observation, reflection, postulation, experimentation, evidence-seeking, and induction, and it is not a simple conclusion. The creativity of hypotheses and conjectures is crucial. Einstein has said, “Posing a question is often more important than solving a problem.” If it is not chosen correctly, even with great energy it is difficult to produce positive results. S&T workers at large must establish lofty aspirations and high ideals of daring to create, of daring to put forward new theories, open up new areas and explore new ways and means, and of working hard for independent creation and unique possession. We must produce more high-level original results, and contribute to the constant enrichment and development of the science system. Scientific research, and especially basic research, often start from scientists' curiosity to investigate the profound mysteries of nature. In practice, all scientists achieving prominent achievements rely on perseverance, curiosity, and a sense of dedication, a life-long exploration to achieve their cause. Research suggests that superiority among scientists not only relies on knowledge, but even more importantly relies on focus and diligence, on undergoing a long period of exploration, and on building superiority in a given area. We must encourage S&T workers to have focus on their own scientific research undertaking, show diligent scrutiny, lack envy and vanity, and disregard fame and fortune. We must broadly publicize vivid deeds of S&T workers who dare to explore and dedicate themselves to science. Curiosity is a human instinct, and guidance and training in scientific interests must be started from childhood to ensure better understanding of scientific knowledge and grasp of scientific methods, creating a large batch of young cohorts equipped with scientific potential.
All levels' Party Committees and governments, as well as all levels' leading cadres, must earnestly implement the policy deployments of the Party Center concerning S&T innovation, implement the innovation-driven development strategy, respect labor, respect knowledge, respect talent, respect creation, abide by the laws of scientific development, promote the constant emergence of numerous S&T innovation achievements, and transform them into actual productivity. Leading cadres must strengthen their study of new scientific knowledge and pay attention to global S&T development trends.
Marx said: "In science, there is no smooth and wide road. Only those unafraid of toiling to climb steep mountain paths can hope to reach glorious summits." I believe that our country's scientists and technology workers have the confidence, have the determination, and have the capability to climb the peaks of science, and properly contribute to realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and promoting the construction of a community of common destiny for humankind!