politics & policy
1. Xi talks sci-tech development
On Friday, Xi Jinping gave a speech calling for China to build itself into a global leader in science and technology (sci-tech).
- The general assemblies of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering
- The 10th National Congress of the China Association for Science and Technology
Xi said sci-tech power is a crucial aspect of China’s overall strength (Xinhua 2):
- “Sci-tech…self-strengthening should always be considered a strategic support for national development.”
- “[Sci-tech] development must…serve the main economic battlefields [and] strive to fulfill the significant needs of the country.”
So far, so boilerplate: Chinese leaders have long touted advanced technology as a key factor in China’s domestic development.
But there was one important change in Xi’s speech.
Compared with his 2016 comments at the same event, Xi’s Friday address focused noticeably more on sci-tech’s role in geopolitics.
- “The Party has…analyzed the competitive situation of international [sci-tech] innovation [and] persisted in putting [sci-tech] innovation in the core position of the overall development of the country.” (Xinhua 1)
Get smart: Developing core technologies is China’s number one economic priority. That’s because Xi and co. see sci-tech supremacy as a national security issue.
2. Back to basics
During his big tech address on Friday (see previous entry), Xi Jinping told scientists where to focus their energies (Xinhua 2):
- “Solve major…scientific problems and overcome challenges in core technologies in key fields that hinder China’s development.”
- “Strengthening basic research is an inevitable requirement for scientific and technological self-reliance.”
Some context: Beijing’s grand plans for technological self-reliance have been frustrated by weakness in core technologies and basic research.
- As such, Chinese tech companies are often forced to source key components like semiconductors from unreliable foreign (read American) sources.
To address this issue, Xi proclaimed that sci-tech research must adhere to a “problem-oriented approach” and achieve breakthroughs in key areas like:
- Oil and gas
- Basic raw materials
- High-end chips
- Industrial software
- Crop seeds
- Scientific test equipment
Xi also identified crucial frontier fields, including:
- Quantum computing
- Advanced manufacturing
- Brain science
- Deep sea exploration
Get smart: China’s drive for sci-tech ascendancy will fall flat if it can’t strengthen its technical research and manufacturing base.
Get smarter: Washington’s aggressive targeting of Chinese tech companies has given more urgency to the drive to nail down sci-tech fundamentals.
3. Free your mind, dude
Hey, where are you going?
- We’ve still got more to say about Xi Jinping’s Friday speech on sci-tech (see previous two entries)!
At the conference, Xi revealed his vision for how the state and private business could propel China’s innovation drive forward.
First, Xi wants the state to play the role of big investor into sci-tech, albeit with a limited scope: (Xinhua)
- The government will primarily support long-term, high risk, and challenging (but technologically promising) research projects, aka projects that are not commercially attractive but could be strategically important.
And he wants the market to play a decisive role in determining where resources to support innovation go.
- Specifically, Xi wants private companies to tell the government and research community where they should focus their effort.
Xi also told the government to stay in its lane:
- “[The government should] reduce direct intervention including allocating money and resources, and determining projects.”
- “[The government should give] scientific research units more autonomy, and give scientists greater power to determine lines of technical inquiry and the use of funds.”
Get smart: An underappreciated aspect of this round of innovation reform is policymakers’ efforts to give researchers and companies more say in where to spend state funds.
4. Li Keqiang urges green growth
On Sunday, Premier Li Keqiang attended the second Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G) summit in Seoul.
Some context: The P4G was established in 2018.
- Its mission is to “accelerate pioneering market-based partnerships to build sustainable and resilient economies” (P4G).
This year’s summit was kind of a big deal.
- Dozens of heads of governments and states attended, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Li said that the pandemic offers a great chance to reorient economies toward more sustainable development models (Gov.cn 2):
- “In post-pandemic recovery, no countries should go back to the old path of development featuring high pollution and high emissions.”
- “Instead, all countries should…resolutely inhibit the impulse to go after extensive growth.”
Get smart: We have seen a step change in efforts to address emissions ever since Xi Jinping announced in September that China would peak emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
Get smarter: As the world’s leading emitter – by far – it will be necessary for China to set more aggressive targets if the world is to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
5. The emission inquisition
On Friday, Executive Vice Premier Han Zheng presided over a meeting of inspectors of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE).
On the agenda: Reviewing reports from the latest round of environmental inspections and planning for the next round.
Some context: The inspection teams were created in 2015 and upgraded in 2019.
- The MEE, once a weak ministry, is increasingly powerful.
- In January, the MEE slammed the energy regulator for letting the coal industry run wild (see February 2 Tip Sheet), forcing it to implement rectification work.
Han said that the next round of inspections would scrutinize high-energy, high-emission projects.
Han promised that the inspections would have consequences (Gov.cn):
- “[Han] added that more should be done to rectify problems found during inspections.”
Get smart: Several approved-but-not-yet-constructed projects will likely be scrapped as a result of inspections.
Get smarter: The MEE’s star will only rise further as the government seeks to achieve China’s climate goals (previous entry).
6. COVID flares in Guangdong
Things are not looking good in Guangdong.
On Sunday, China reported 20 new domestically infected cases and three asymptomatic cases, all in Guangdong province.
That’s a lot of cases: The last time China reported over 20 domestically transmitted confirmed cases was four months ago, on January 31.
This outbreak may be hard to contain: Guangzhou health authorities said the new cases had a COVID-19 variant first discovered in India.
Some context: Since May 21, the following four Guangdong cities have reported infections:
Guangzhou authorities have instituted the strictest containment measures we’ve seen in a while:
- Guangzhou residents can’t leave the city unless they provide negative nucleic acid test results within three days.
- Large-scale COVID testing is underway.
- School is cancelled.
- Express delivery, shared bike use, and ride hailing services are suspended.
Get smart: If not contained quickly, these outbreaks could cause significant disruption to businesses and local industry.
Get smarter: It’ll be bad news for the economy if soft lockdown measures like the ones in Guangzhou are implemented elsewhere.