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Is China the next big destination for intellectual capital?

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Decades ago, scientists, engineers and doctors preferred to journey West—to America and Europe. In a quiet reversal of sorts, a trickle—7,600 scientists and engineers—have begun heading East, to China, partly in response to China’s Thousand Talents Plan (2008). The lucrative scheme offers Chinese returnees and foreign experts (non-Chinese) generous research funds, opportunities to set up labs, tenured positions and salaries comparable with America. Is China the next big destination for intellectual capital? And what is the import and implication of its growing prowess in science and technology?

China has been catching up—but think past Huawei’s 5G technology and MateBook X Pro Laptop. China’s satellite Micius made a spectacular breakthrough (2017) with a videoconference between Vienna and Beijing—the world’s very first quantum-encrypted intercontinental video link. Chinese scientist Jian-Wei Pan, the man behind the project (who collaborated with Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger), is the man of the times, feted as China’s ‘father of quantum’. He is also the man behind the Beijing-Shanghai quantum link (Beijing-Jinan-Hefei-Shanghai) currently in use to transfer sensitive data.

Other breakthroughs include Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua (the first cloned primates), the cotton seedling that grew on the moon aboard Chang’e 4 lunar lander (in 2019), scientist Tu Youyou (who made a breakthrough in the treatment of malaria with artemisinin and won the Nobel Prize in 2015), deep-sea submersible Jiaolong, the fastest bullet train in the world—all out of China’s stables.

China’s transformation has neither been an overnight phenomenon nor come without help from the Communist Party (CCP). China has long been positioning itself as a knowledge-based economy and innovator—not a ‘me-too’ imitator or a ‘back office’. China has made remarkable strides in innovative products, technologies, business processes and business models. China’s popular mobile payments where Chinese customers tap (their smartphone) to pay has obliterated the need for cheques, ATMs and credit cards (Alipay, WeChat Pay), and home-grown e-commerce giants (JD, Tencent, Alibaba) have transformed the landscape of B2C business.

More than a decade ago (in 2005), China targeted indigenous innovation with a commitment to step up funding in R&D and limit China’s dependence on foreign technology. This was through the Medium- and Long-Term Plan for the Development of........

© The Financial Express