Xiconomics in Practice: Xi leads China in boosting tech self-reliance, fostering new growth drivers amid fierce global competition
Published: May 29, 2023 08:13 PM
Editor's Note:

Since 2012, China has witnessed an extraordinary economic transition, with historic achievements in all aspects of the economy from its size to quality. Such an unparalleled feat does not just happen, especially during a tumultuous period in the global geo-economic landscape and a tough phase in China's economic transformation and upgrading process. It was Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era that guided the country in overcoming various risks and challenges, and in keeping the China economic miracle alive.

As China embarked on the quest to become a great modern socialist country amid global changes unseen in a century, Xi's economic thought has been and will continue to be the guiding principle for development in China for years to come, and have great significance for the world. What is Xi's economic thought? What does it mean for China and the world? To answer these questions, the Global Times has launched this special coverage on Xi's major economic speeches and policies, and how they are put into practice to boost development in China and around the world.

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

On a sweltering Friday afternoon, cranes periodically maneuver over a massive construction site in northwest Beijing's Haidian district. Inside the walled-up site, trucks and machines roar, though the sound is muffled. At first glance, this is just a typical scene at a major construction sites ubiquitous in many places across China amid the rapid recovery of economic activities after the pandemic.

Yet, another busy scene just several meters across the street from the construction site puts into context the unique nature of the project. Outside the Zhongguancun (ZGC) Exhibition Center, police officers busy themselves guiding traffic as scores of pedestrians in business attire and flashy badges line up for security checks under a large white tent. Through the gate, a massive logo unmistakably shows what is taking place: the 2023 ZGC Forum.

The forum, first launched in 2007 in Zhongguancun, dubbed China's "Silicon Valley," has become a state-level platform for global scientific and technological (sci-tech) innovation exchange and cooperation. The forum has garnered considerable national and global influence and the country is striving to further expand its scale and global profile. The construction work across the street is for the permanent venue of the ZGC Forum. 

The development of both Zhongguancun and the ZGC Forum has been at the forefront of China's robust, intensifying efforts, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, to enhance sci-tech innovation capabilities and bolster sci-tech self-reliance and strength so as to foster new growth drivers and new strengths in the face of fierce international competition. 

Xi attaches great importance to sci-tech innovation. A book detailing his discourses on sci-tech self-reliance and strength has recently been published, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday. The book contains 50 relevant discourses by Xi, some of which were published for the first time, according to Xinhua.

From 'China's Silicon Valley' to 'Global ZGC'

In a congratulatory letter sent to the 2023 ZGC Forum, Xi stressed that Beijing should fully leverage its strengths in education, science, technologies and talent, coordinate sci-tech and institutional innovation, continue to promote pilot reforms in Zhongguancun, further accelerate the construction of a world-leading sci-tech park, and strive to take the lead in the innovation of cutting-edge technologies and the development of advanced and sophisticated industries.

Xi, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, has attached great importance to the forum as well as Zhongguancun. In September 2013, led by Xi, members of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee visited the Zhongguancun Science Park and held a group study. This was the first time that such a study had been held outside the central authority's seat at Zhongnanhai. 

Presiding over the group study, Xi stressed the importance of science and technology in enhancing national strength. "We must enhance awareness of unexpected challenges and grab the opportunity of the science and technology revolution. We cannot wait, hesitate, or slack," Xi said.

In 2019, Xi sent a congratulatory letter to the 2019 ZGC Forum, stating that with the accelerated new round of sci-tech revolution and industrial transformation, innovation, development, and cooperation with win-win results have become an inevitable trend. 

Then in 2021, Xi delivered a speech via video link at the opening ceremony of the forum, stressing that China attaches great importance to sci-tech innovation. He noted that Zhongguancun is China's first national independent innovation demonstration zone, and the ZGC Forum is a state-level platform for global sci-tech innovation exchanges and cooperation.

Such support and leadership from the top leader have led to rapid development in Zhongguancun, which has become a flagbearer of China's innovation. Total revenue of enterprises in the demonstration zone reached 8.7 trillion yuan in 2022, which is 3.5 times that of 2012, according to official data. Due to supportive measures, more than 300 multinationals have set up regional headquarters and research centers, and more than 130 Fortune Global 500 companies have established branch offices in the zone. Some in China no longer describe Zhongguancun as "China's Silicon Valley," but the "Global Zhongguancun." 

Thanks to achievements in Zhongguancun, Beijing as a whole has also become a crucial hub in the global innovation network, ranking third globally in the number of "unicorn" companies and topping the Nature Index global science city rankings six consecutive times. In 2022, 293 new tech companies were established each day in Beijing, meaning a new tech firm was born every five minutes or so on average during the year. 

The ZGC Forum has also seen remarkable achievements over the last decade or so, attracting thousands of industry players and scholars from around the world. This year's forum, for example, has attracted guests from more than 80 countries and regions, and nearly 200 international organizations and institutions, with about 120 top experts from around the world, including 17 Nobel Prize laureates.

For businesses, the ZGC Forum offers a great platform to learn about the latest global trends and advances in cutting-edge technologies as well as to showcase the latest innovation results, according to Qi Xiongdong, chairman of Qi An Xin Group, a cybersecurity firm. "If a new technology is not released at the ZGC Forum, it will not be adopted as quickly," he said.

Beyond the ZGC Forum, China has also created a favorable environment for innovation nationwide with supportive measures in a wide range of areas such as talent, Qi told the Global Times. "China is doing very well in terms of sci-tech innovation," he said, while noting that the country places great emphasis on innovation as a primary driving force for high-quality development and on sci-tech self-reliance and strength.

A new concept car draws visitors at the Exhibition of Zhongguancun Forum in Beijing on May 26, 2023. Photo: Li Hao/GT

A new concept car draws visitors at the Exhibition of Zhongguancun Forum in Beijing on May 26, 2023. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Innovation as primary driving force 

In the report to the opening session of the 20th National Congress of the CPC in October 2022, Xi stressed that innovation will remain at the heart of China's modernization drive. He said that the country will accelerate the implementation of the innovation-driven development strategy at a faster pace to achieve greater self-reliance and strength in science and technology. Sticking to innovation-driven development is also a crucial part of Xi Jinping Thought on the Economy.

While presiding over a group study session of the Political Bureau of the 20th CPC Central Committee in February, Xi called for the strengthening of basic research to consolidate self-reliance and strength in science and technology.

While taking part in a deliberation with his fellow deputies from the delegation of Jiangsu Province to the first session of the 14th National People's Congress in March, Xi said that to open up new areas and new arenas in development and foster new growth drivers and new strengths in face of fierce international competition, China should ultimately rely on sci-tech innovation.

Under an innovation-driven development strategy, China has made great strides in bolstering its independent sci-tech innovation capabilities. In 2022, China moved up to the 11th spot in the Global Innovation Index released by the World Intellectual Property Organization, compared to 34th place in 2012. China's investment in research and development (R&D) increased three-fold from 1 trillion yuan ($144 billion) in 2012 to 3 trillion yuan in 2022. The number of R&D personnel also exceeded 6 million in 2022, maintaining the world's leading position for many years.

China has also taken the lead or moved to the forefront in many areas of cutting-edge technologies such as 5G, new-energy vehicles and quantum computing. A series of recent major developments have also offered more proof of China's rapidly rising sci-tech innovation prowess. On Sunday, China's first home-grown passenger jet, the C919, made its first commercial flight. Last week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization adopted a decision concerning the establishment of a Category I Institute on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education in Shanghai, which, once approved, would be the first Category I institute in China. 

China's unstoppable progress

Such achievements also add to growing evidence that the US' relentless containment strategy cannot and will not contain China's rise in sci-tech, economy, and in overall national strength, experts said. 

Historically, the US has tried but not been able to contain China's pursuit of sci-tech self-reliance and strength. In the early days of the founding of the People's Republic of China, the US also tried to contain China's nuclear and space development, but the "two bombs and one satellite" project was a success and its spirit is still alive today. 

On Monday, Chinese officials announced that China plans to send taikonauts to land on the moon before 2030. China also announced that a new three-person crew was scheduled to carry out the Shenzhou-16 spaceflight mission.  

In recent years, the US government has wielded its state power to crack down on Chinese technology firms such as Huawei. 

"The fact that representatives from many multinationals and international institutions attended the [ZGC Forum] fully demonstrates that the US' push for decoupling is unpopular around the world and does not bode well for global sci-tech development," Ma Jihua, a veteran tech analyst, told the Global Times.

Committed to international cooperation

While focusing on boosting its sci-tech self-reliance and strength, China has also been actively promoting international cooperation. 

"China has an incredible mix of expertise and experience," Bill Gates, co-founder of US-tech giant Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a speech at the ZGC Forum on Friday, according to a video the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission shared with the Global Times. "China will be able to make unique contributions to sharing its technologies."

The ZGC Forum plays several major roles in terms of boosting sci-tech innovation in China as well as promoting sci-tech exchanges and cooperation globally, Wang Peng, a research fellow at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. "Through the platform, we can better learn about breakthroughs in frontier sci-tech fields, which offers a clear direction for domestic sci-tech innovation to tackle bottleneck problems," he said. 

Highlighting China's commitment to the promotion of global sci-tech exchanges, the country has recently held many forums and expos in various places for domestic and global businesses. In the latest example, in addition to the ZGC Forum, the China International Big Data Industry Expo 2023 also kicked off in Guiyang, Southwest China's Guizhou Province on Friday, where many foreign businesses expressed solid confidence in China's development. 

"Panasonic's business in the Chinese market has maintained a good momentum of development. We have high expectations for the Chinese market and are expanding into new business," Guang Wei, director of BDA product marketing sales at Panasonic, told the Global Times on the sidelines of the Big Data Expo 2023 in Guiyang.

Such a sentiment has also been echoed by many at the ZGC Forum, where many foreign businesses and scholars talked about the vast potential and opportunities China presents. And they are about to further see greater potential in China through a bigger platform. With construction work for the permanent site of the ZGC Forum expected to wrap up in August 2023, the 65,000-square-meter venue with modern, green, and high-tech features will officially open its doors to welcome more domestic and global guests for 2024's forum.