Xi Jinping: ‘Strive to Become the World’s Primary Center for Science and High Ground for Innovation’

Translation by Ben Murphy, Rogier Creemers, Elsa Kania, Paul Triolo, and Kevin Neville. Edited with an introduction by Graham Webster.

As the Chinese government released the 14th Five-Year Plan, covering the years 2021–26, its emphasis on advancement in science and technology (S&T) took center stage. For China’s top leader Xi Jinping, however, the importance of innovation and S&T advancement has been a major emphasis for several years.

The publication this week of a previously unreleased 2018 speech by Xi on reforms aimed at shaping China into the world’s primary science and innovation center, therefore, underlines for the audience of the Communist Party’s top theory journal Qiushi that the 14th Five-Year Plan builds on work that is already underway. DigiChina has translated the full speech below.

The speech, given on May 28, 2018, was part of a series of public statements and media events that signaled the Chinese government’s resolve to build “independent innovation” (also translated as “indigenous innovation”) in “core technologies” at a time when the Trump administration in the United States signaled an increasing willingness to interfere with Chinese access to key components.

Xi had given a speech on cybersecurity and digital economy policy the month before (coverage of which was translated by DigiChina) that reportedly framed “core technologies” as “important instruments of the state.” In a tour of high-tech facilities following that group, Xi had reportedly invoked “self-reliance”—now a watchword of Chinese S&T and industrial policy.

Xi has also spoken at length to more senior audiences of Chinese leaders and sectoral experts about emerging technologies and critical technology sectors such as semiconductors, quantum computing, artificial intelligence. AI is at the top of the new five-year plan’s list of strategic areas, and Xi has frequently hailed the emerging technology as a primary driver of the next industrial revolution.

The speech translated below provides important insight into the way Xi has framed Chinese strategy around technology to internal audiences for three years and signals continuity with initiatives pursued since that time.

[Corrections: 19 March 2021: Due to an editing error, this translation was originally published without co-translator Elsa Kania’s byline. 5 April 2021: The introduction to this translation originally misstated the date of the speech as May 5; the original source indicates it was May 28. We regret the errors.]

Original source: http://www.qstheory.cn/dukan/qs/2021-03/15/c_1127209130.htm


Strive to Become the World’s Primary Center for Science and High Ground for Innovation

By Xi Jinping

With the advent of the 21st century, global science and technology (S&T) innovation has entered a period of unprecedented intensity and vitality. The new round of S&T revolution and industrial revolution is reconstructing the global innovation domain and reshaping the global economic structure. New-generation information technologies, represented by artificial intelligence, quantum information science, mobile telecommunications, the Internet of Things, and blockchain are accelerating breakthrough applications. The realm of life sciences, represented by synthetic biology, gene editing, brain science, and regenerative medicine, is giving birth to new changes. The new manufacturing technologies of integrated robotics, digitalization, and new materials are accelerating the manufacturing industry’s shift toward intelligent systems, focusing on services, and eco-friendliness. The development of clean, high-efficiency, and sustainable energy technologies is accelerating and will usher in a global energy revolution. Space and maritime technologies are expanding the frontiers of where humans can live and work. In sum, creative breakthroughs in areas such as information technology, life sciences, manufacturing, energy, space, and maritime are supplying ever more wellsprings of innovation for cutting-edge and disruptive technologies; the trend of cross-cutting fusion between disciplines, between disciplines and technologies, between technologies, and between the natural sciences and the humanities and social sciences, is becoming more pronounced by the day; and S&T have never before so profoundly influenced the future and fate of nations, and have never before so profoundly influenced the lives and welfare of the people, as they do today.

At present, some significant problems urgently in need of solutions still exist in China’s S&T domain. In particular, relative to the new missions and new requirements laid down by the 19th Party Congress, there exist a great many deficiencies in China’s S&T, in areas such as the structure of our vision, our capacity for innovation, our resource allocation, and our structure and policies. The shortcomings of China’s basic scientific research are still obvious. Industry gives short shrift to basic research. We lack major original achievements. We have weak low-level basic technology and basic industrial capabilities. There are still prominent bottlenecks in industrial machine tools, high-end microchips, basic software and hardware, development platforms, basic algorithms, basic components, basic materials, and so on. Our situation, in which key and core technologies are controlled by others, has not fundamentally changed. China’s technical R&D is focused on bottlenecks in industrial development and is insufficient to meet demand. We need still more open S&T cooperation plans with global vision. Our capacity to convert S&T achievements [into practical applications] is weak. China’s talent development structures and mechanisms are in need of further improvement; our incentive mechanisms to arouse the innovation and creative vitality of talent are weak, and we lack top individual and team talent. China’s S&T administrative structure still fails to fully meet the requirements for building a world S&T superpower (世界科技强国).[1] The implementation of many major decisions in S&T structural reform has not yet formed strong cooperation. Overall planning and linkages between S&T innovation policy on the one hand and economic and industrial policy on the other are still insufficient. The whole society’s mechanism and environment for encouraging innovation and welcoming innovation are in need of improvement.

If China is to grow strong, prosperous, and rejuvenated, we most certainly need to develop S&T in a big way. We must strive to become the world’s main center of science and the high ground of innovation. We are closer than any time in history to the objective of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and we need more than any time in history to build [China into] a world S&T superpower!

At present, we have arrived at a historical crossroads, where the new round of the world S&T revolution and industrial revolution meets China’s transformation of its mode of development. We face both a unique historical opportunity and a mounting, severe challenge. We must clearly recognize that, while some historical crossroads can occur again and again, other historical crossroads can be fleeting.

The circumstances are pressing, the challenge is pressing, and the mission is pressing. China’s S&T workers must grasp the big picture, seize this decisive opportunity, confront issues head-on, tackle difficulties and surmount them, set sights on the world S&T cutting edge, guide the direction of S&T development, shoulder the heavy responsibility history has bestowed on you, and boldly serve as the pacesetters for S&T innovation in the new era.

First, it is necessary to fully understand that innovation is the first driving force, to provide high-quality S&T inputs, and to focus on supporting the construction of a modern economic system. It is written in the Mohist canon that “strength (力) is that by which the body exerts itself.”[2] That is to say, the impetus (动力) is the cause of the movement of objects. It is necessary to focus on improving the quality and efficiency of development, to support supply-side structural reform (供给侧结构性改革) as the main line, and to improve the quality of the supply system as the main direction. This will make it possible to promote the qualitative transformation, efficiency transformation, and impetus transformation of economic development, and significantly enhance China’s economic quality advantages. By making up for shortcomings, tapping potential, and increasing advantages, we must promote the efficient flow of resource elements and the optimal allocation of resources, and promote the reengineering of industrial supply chains and the upgrading of value chains, while satisfying effective demand and potential demand, achieving the matching of supply and demand, and dynamically balancing development, while improving market development expectations, and boosting confidence in the development of the real economy.

The world is entering a period of economic development dominated by the information industry. We must grasp the opportunity of the integration and development of digitization and  networked and intelligent systems, and use informatization and intelligent systems deployment as levers to cultivate new kinetic energy. It is necessary to highlight their leading nature and pillar nature, as we give priority to cultivating and vigorously developing a number of strategic emerging industrial clusters and build the new pillars of the industrial system. It is necessary to promote the deep integration of the Internet, big data, and artificial intelligence with the real economy, in order to make the digital economy bigger and stronger. It is necessary to focus on intelligent manufacturing to promote industrial technological transformation and optimization and upgrading, to promote the fundamental transformation of manufacturing industry models and corporate models, and to promote “bringing forth the new” to drive “weeding out the old,” creating new technology to upgrade capacity, and propelling China’s industries toward the high-end of global value chains.

Second, we must stay the course of  independent innovation (自主创新), strengthen our confidence in innovation, and exert efforts to enhance our ability to innovate independently. Only a confident country and nation can move forward steadily on the road to the future. When trees are tall and leafy, they are tied to deep roots. Self-reliance is the foundation for the Chinese nation to strive and stand on its own among the nations of the world, and independent innovation is the only way for us to scale the world’s technological peaks. “If I will have confidence about my ability to accomplish something, even if it is as difficult as moving mountains and filling the sea, I will have a successful day. If I believe that it is not feasible, even if it is as easy as turning the palm of your hand or snapping a twig, I will not be effective.”[3] Innovation will always have a high failure rate, like 9 out of 10, but we must have the pride to be “more than what we are good at; even though we die, we should still have no regrets.”[4] The vast number of scientific and technological workers in China must have strong confidence and determination to innovate, neither groundlessly underestimating themselves nor arrogantly overestimating themselves. They must have the courage to overcome difficulties, pursue excellence, win victories, and actively seize the commanding heights of technological competition and future development.

Practice has repeatedly told us that [it is possible] with core technologies that they may not be available when needed, cannot be purchased when needed, and are not always available on demand. Only by grasping key and core technologies within our own hands can we fundamentally guarantee national economic security, national defense security, and other securities. It is necessary to strengthen the “four self-confidences,”[5] taking key common technologies, frontier leading technologies, modern engineering technologies, and disruptive technological innovations as breakthrough points, daring to take the road that no one has traveled, striving to realize independent control of key and core technologies, and taking the initiative to innovate and the initiative in development firmly within our own hands.

In building a world S&T superpower, it is necessary to have iconic S&T achievements. It is necessary to strengthen strategic orientation and guidance on objectives, strengthen the capabilities of the S&T innovation system, accelerate the construction of first-mover advantages that support high-end leadership, strengthen the research and deployment of fundamental and overall scientific issues, and make great efforts in key domains and bottleneck sectors, mustering elite forces, setting out strategic arrangements, and achieving breakthroughs as rapidly as possible. In addition, it is necessary to strive to realize the strategic transformation of China’s overall technological level from following, to running alongside, to becoming a leader in important S&T domains, becoming a pioneer in emerging frontier inter-disciplinary domains, and creating more competitive advantages. We must take satisfying the people’s yearning for a better life as our stance on technological innovation, and take the key direction of technological innovation as favoring the people, benefitting the people, enriching the people, and improving people’s livelihood.

Basic research is the fountainhead of the whole scientific system. We must aim at the global S&T frontiers, seize upon the major trends, make a good “first move,” lay a solid foundation, reserve the long-term, be willing to sit on the bench, dare to be a planter and well-digger, and achieve forward-looking basic research and leading original results as major breakthroughs, laying a solid foundation for building China into a world S&T superpower. We must increase the intensity of applied basic research, take the promotion of major S&Tl projects as the starting point, open up the “last kilometer,” remove the blockages that hinder industrialization, and clear the fast lane of applied basic research and industrialization. Promote precise linkage between the innovation chain and the industrial chain, speed up the transformation of scientific research results from samples to products to commodities, and fully apply S&T achievements to modernization.

Engineering and S&T are the engines that promote human progress; they are powerful levers for industrial revolution, economic development, and social progress. The numerous engineering and S&T workers must have a spirit of artisanship, as well as a spirit of unity. They must focus on major national strategic requirements, aim at economic construction and major engineering and S&T issues related to national security, and closely follow the real needs of society and people’s livelihood in the new era, as well as the needs of military-civilian integration. We must accelerate the transformation and application of independent innovation achievements, and take the initiative in forward-looking and strategic areas.

Third, comprehensively deepen reforms of S&T organization, enhance the efficiency of the innovation system, and strive to stimulate vitality in innovation. Innovation will win the future; reform is vital to the nation’s fortunes. The domain of S&T is the domain that is most in need of continuous reform. On June 9, 2014, I emphasized in my speech at the two academies’ Academician Conference, in promoting indigenous innovation, the most urgent thing is to break the barriers of the system and mechanism, maximize the liberation and stimulation of the huge potential of science and technology as the primary productive force. Focusing on these key missions, over these years, we have vigorously promoted the reform of the S&T system. The reform of the science and technology system has made full efforts, made multiple breakthroughs, and in-depth development. The main structure of the reform of the science and technology system has been already established, and substantial breakthroughs have been achieved in reforms in important domains and key links.

In August 2015, the Party Center and the State Council published the “Implementation Plan to Deepen Structural Reform in Science And Technology,” which listed 143 reform tasks to be completed by the year 2020; at present, over 110 reform tasks have been completed. We have achieved substantial breakthroughs in difficult areas in S&T reform that we have wanted to resolve for many years yet had not been able to resolve. At the same time, several prominent problems that remain to be resolved still exist in S&T structural reform. These mainly are: the overall efficiency of the national innovation system is not yet strong; the problem that S&T innovation resources are scattered, duplicated, and low efficiency has not yet been fundamentally resolved; phenomena such as “many projects, many hats, and many plaques” remain relatively prominent; S&T input and output efficiency remains low; capacity to transfer and convert S&T achievements [into practical applications], realize industrialization, and create market value are insufficient; the reform of scientific research institutions, progress in areas such as the establishment and completion of mechanisms to integrate finance with S&T, the training of innovative talent, etc., lags behind overall progress; and the vigour of scientific research personnel in conducting original S&T innovation has not been fully unleashed, etc.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of our country’s reform and opening up. To comprehensively deepen reform in a new era, our resolve cannot waver, and our courage cannot weaken. We must dare to crack hard nuts, dare to ford difficult streams and cross difficult passes in S&T structural reform, and break through all intellectual obstacles and structural barriers constraining S&T innovation. As it is said, “poverty leads to change, change leads to development, development leads to longevity.”

We must: uphold the “dual drivers” of S&T innovation and structural innovation; be guided by problems; be led by necessities; devote efforts in practical subjects, structural arrangements, policy safeguards, and creating environments; sustain efforts in areas such as innovation subjects, innovation bases, innovation resources, innovation environments, etc.; strengthen national strategic S&T; and enhance the overall efficiency of the national innovation system. We must optimize and strengthen top-level design of the technological innovation system, clarify the functions and positions of enterprises, higher education institutions, scientific research institutes and innovative actors in the different segments of the innovation chain, and arouse the innovative enthusiasm and vigor of all kinds of actors. We must accelerate the transformation of government S&T management functions, and give full rein to organizational advantages.

Enterprises are the subjects of innovation, and are fresh troops in driving innovation and creativity. It is as Engels said: “Whenever society has a technological need, this kind of need will drive science forward more than ten universities will.” We must push enterprises to become actors for technological innovation policy decisions,  research and development input, scientific research organization, and conversion of outcomes, and foster a batch of innovative vanguard enterprises with prominent core technology capabilities that integrate strong innovation capabilities. Let the market play a guiding role in the orientation of technological research and development, choice of pathways, factor pricing, and the allocation of all kinds of innovation factors, and let the market truly play a decisive role in the allocation of innovation resources. We must perfect long-term mechanisms for policy support, factor input, incentives and safeguards, service, supervision and management, etc., to drive forward the flourishing development of new technologies, new products, and new business models. We must accelerate the transformation of achievements into applications, break down and pass through junctures, and eliminate “one dragon” bottlenecks in realizing technological breakthroughs, product manufacture, market scale, and industry development.

We must construct national laboratories with high standards, promote the comprehensive arrangement and optimization of large scientific plans, large scientific projects, large scientific centres, and international S&T innovation bases. We must accelerate the establishment of S&T policy decision mechanisms with S&T consultancy support for administrative policymaking, focus on letting think tanks and specialized research bodies play their role, perfect S&T policy making mechanisms, and raise scientific policy making capabilities. We must accelerate the construction of civil-military fusion development systems; perfect civil-military fusion organization and management systems, work operations systems, policy structures, and systems; and eliminate obstacles for “the people to join the military” and “the military to transfer to the people.” We must strengthen intellectual property protection and law enforcement, and perfect intellectual property service systems.

On May 30, 2016, I stressed in my speech at the National Science and Technology Innovation Conference, the Two Academies Conference and the 9th National Congress of the China Association for Science and Technology that we must strive to reform and innovate scientific research funding use, and management methods; let funding serve people’s creative activities, and not let people’s creative activities serve funding; we must reform S&T valuation structures, establish categorized evaluation systems guided by S&T innovation quality, contributions, and achievements; and truly evaluate the scientific value, technological value, economic value, social value, and cultural value of S&T innovation achievements. We have successively published several important reform plans, including the “Plan Concerning Deepening Management Reform of Central Financial Administration Science and Technology Plans (Projects, Funds, etc.),” “Some Opinions Concerning Further Perfecting Central Financial Administration Science and Technology Project Funding Management and Other Such Policies,” “Some Opinions Concerning Implementing Allocation Policies Guided by Added Knowledge Value,” the “Guiding Opinions Concerning Reform of the Categorized Promotion of Talent Evaluation Mechanism,” and the “Plan Concerning Deepening Reform of the Science and Technology Award and Incentive Structures.” These have received warm welcomes from the numerous science and technology workers. Everyone reflects that these reforms still need to be improved in places. Some have not yet completely been implemented, and relevant departments must earnestly listen to everyone’s opinions and suggestions, continue to determinedly move forward, and liberate people’s creative activities from unreasonable funding management, talent evaluation, and other such structures.

Fourth, deeply participate in global S&T governance, contribute China’s wisdom, and strive to promote the construction of a community of common destiny for humankind. S&T are global and of the times; to develop S&T, we must have a global outlook. Do not refuse a mass of small streams, for they all become rivers and seas. Independent innovation is innovation in an open environment. We can absolutely not go forward with closed doors; we must bring together winds from the four seas, and borrow strengths from the eight directions. We must deepen international S&T exchange and cooperation, advance independent innovation from an ever higher starting point, actively deploy and vigorously use international innovation resources, strive to build cooperative win-win partnerships, collectively respond to the common challenges of humankind such as its future development, food security, energy security, human health, climate change, etc., benefiting many other countries and peoples at the same time as we realize our own development, and promote balanced development at a global level.

We must adhere to a global vision and plan to promote S&T innovation, strengthen widespread international cooperation in S&T innovation, actively integrate into the global network of S&T innovation, improve the level of opening up of national S&T plans, actively participate in and lead international large-scale scientific plans and projects, and encourage China’s scientists to initiate and organize international S&T cooperation plans. We must continue the Belt and Road Initiative and create a new technological innovation alliance for the countries along the corridor while creating opportunities and platforms for the common development of all countries. We must maximize the use of global innovation resources, comprehensively enhance China’s position in the global innovation landscape, and enhance China’s influence and rule-making capabilities in global S&T governance.

Fifth, we must firmly establish the strategic position of talent leading development, comprehensively gather talent, and strive to consolidate them in a foundation for innovation and development. Achievements are made by talent, and industries are expanded by talent. In all things in this world, people are the most precious; and all innovative achievements are produced by people. Hard power or soft power, when it comes down to it, it all depends on the power of talent. The entire history of S&T has proven that whoever has first-class innovative talent and scientists can gain the advantage in S&T innovation. At present, China still has a shortage of high-level innovative talents, especially those which lead in S&T. The system for evaluating talent is not rational. The phenomenon of holding professional titles and academic qualifications on paper alone remains a serious problem, the plethora of assessments and evaluations give S&T workers more work than they can handle, “hats” worn by talent proliferate, and the talent management system remains ill-adapted to the demands of innovation and incompatible with the nature of S&T innovation. We must also innovate the talent evaluation mechanism, establish and improve the evaluation system of S&T talent oriented by innovation ability, quality, and contribution, and form and implement the evaluation system that is conducive to the dedicated research and innovation by S&T talent. We must pay attention to the combination of individual evaluation and team evaluation, while respecting and recognizing the actual contribution of all participants in the team. We must also improve the S&T reward system, so that outstanding S&T innovation talent can receive reasonable returns, and release the innovative vitality of all kinds of talent. Through reform, we must change the practice of labeling talent with “permanent cards” based on static evaluation results, and change the one-sided practice of taking the number of papers, patents, and funds as the evaluation criteria for talent. We must not let red tape tie the hands and feet of scientists, and endless reports and approvals delay the energy of scientists!

On the road of innovation, you must have the right people. To find the right people, you must broaden avenues to gather them. It is necessary to: create a sound environment for innovation; accelerate formation of a training mechanism conducive to cultivating talent, a mechanism conducive to the full use of talents, an incentive mechanism conducive to competing for growth, and a competition mechanism conducive to the emergence of all kinds of talent; so as to cultivate a fertile soil for the cultivation of talent, and better develop talent’s root systems such that they thrive one after another. We must respect the growth pattern of talent, solve the structural contradictions among talent teams, build a complete talent echelon structure, and train a large number of international-level strategic S&T talent, leading S&T talent, young S&T talent, and innovation teams. We must strengthen investments in talent, optimize talent policies, create a policy environment conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship, build an effective mechanism for attracting and employing talents, and build an innovation setting where people of extraordinary ability from everywhere assemble in China with all of creation to compete freely!

*This is a portion of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s speech at the 19th Conference of Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the 14th Conference of Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.


[1] Editor’s note: The term translated here as “superpower” can also be translated as “powerhouse” or simply “power,” and literally means “strong country.” We use “superpower” in this context for the same reason we use “cyber superpower” for 网络强国, a decision DigiChina documented here.

[2] Translators’ note: 力,刑之所以奮也。From Mozi Book 10, Canon I. https://ctext.org/mozi/book-10#n147 Thanks to Sam Crane for this reference.

[3] Translators’ note: from Sun Yat-sen’s “Guidelines for the Founding of the Country: Preface”

[4] Translators’ note: This is a sentence in Qu Yuan’s  well known poem Lament (Li Sao), from the anthology Chuci, dating from the Warring States period (476-221 BC). It expresses the author’s loyalty in pursuing the prosperity of the family and the country, adhering to noble conduct and not fearing all kinds of difficulties and dangers, and having no regrets in death. Later, people often quoted this phrase to express their aspirations when expressing their adherence to their ideals and striving to achieve goals.

[5]Translators’ note: Four Self-Confidences: Self-confidence in the path of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, self-confidence in theory, self-confidence in the system, and self-confidence in culture.