Mounting pressure on technology behind China's drive for self-reliance, says expert

BEIJING – The wave of rising protectionism on technology and pressure against China in recent years led to a growing realisation in Beijing that it needed to develop its own critical technologies to secure its own development, a Chinese government expert said on Monday (Nov 23).

Dr Tian Jietang, who studies innovation research for the Development Research Centre (DRC) of the State Council, China’s Cabinet, was explaining the drive for technological self-sufficiency in China.

The subject has gained impetus after it emerged as a major talking point during a meeting of top Communist officials last month discussing China’s future development plans.

“We’ve realised that for some critical technologies, if we don’t develop it ourselves, we will never get them,” said Dr Tian, who was among a panel of experts speaking at a press briefing.

Beijing is in the process of drafting its development plans for the next five years – known as the 14th Five Year Plan – following the Fifth Plenum meeting last month, and technological independence has emerged as a key thrust of the latest blueprint.

During the Fifth Plenum, senior party officials set a course for China to become a global tech leader by 2035 and stressed that technological self-reliance must be a key pillar of the country’s modernisation.

The focus on self-reliance in technology coincides with a battle between China and the United States in the field.

In the last four years, Beijing has come under intense pressure from Washington, which has sanctioned Chinese tech firms like Huawei and ZTE over security concerns and placed restrictions on their suppliers, cutting off their access to cutting-edge chips, among other things.

Asked if Beijing’s drive for technological independence would affect ties or cooperation with the US, Dr Tian said this was a case of China “wanting to do its own things well”.

“As a developing country, our GDP per capita is now about US$10,000 (S$13,400), so we have reached the stage where we should improve our technological and research capabilities,” he said.

How relations would evolve between the US and China under the incoming Biden administration has become a topic of much discussion in recent days in Beijing.

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Asked about the future of US-China trade ties, another State Council expert struck a conciliatory tone on Monday.

Ms Zhang Qi, who heads the DRC’s research department on foreign economic relations, said the mutual interests of both countries are larger than their differences.

“We think that as long as everyone holds to the principle of mutual benefits and win-win cooperation to manage and control differences and avoid taking extreme measures, then there are actually many things we can do together,” she said.

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