context: Research funding benefits from the increasing importance of high-quality, innovation-driven growth to the national economy, as underlined by the 2018 Central Economic Work Conference’s moderately optimistic forecast. The state wants research to cater to social and industry needs, but it’s taking a long-term view, meaning it’s willing to support basic research in areas of national interest.

More resources will be channelled to basic, fundamental and frontier research to boost indigenous innovation, reiterated Li Keqiang 李克强 premier at 2018’s first State Council Executive Meeting. Li proposed

  • supporting basic science disciplines, especially
    • mathematics
    • physics
    • chemistry
    • computer science
  • bridging the gap with applied research, especially in
    • smart manufacturing
    • information technology, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and cloud computing
    • modern agriculture
    • resources, energy, earth, ocean and environmental science
  • diversifying funding schemes
    • increase direct state investment, subsidies and fiscal and financial support
    • explore private funding, including from businesses to accelerate tech transfers
  • decentralising sci-tech management
    • give universities and research institutes more autonomy
    • separate administrative and academic management to prevent corruption
  • attracting overseas talent

The state is the primary investor in basic research, implementing the ‘Sci-tech basic research 5-year plan’, according to the National Statistics Bureau. In 2016, central government spent 776.07 bn on sci-tech research, up 10.8 percent y-o-y. Public, industrial and private investment in basic research increased 14.9 percent to reach 82.29 bn. Almost twice as much went to applied research, according the report: the national key R&D fund doled out most of the 161.05 bn spent in this area.

Government welcomes private and foreign investors, notes 21st Century Business Herald, highlighting

  • DAMO Academy, a global research institute set up by Alibaba with a 100 bn budget
  • Google’s AI centre in Beijing, the first of its kind in Asia

Such broader social participation will undo barriers between research and commercial development, says the article.