Contribution by Eva Lory,
3rd-year student in ESSCA’s Bachelor of International Business Development:
« I’m a 20-year-old business student in Angers, and I am interested by space conquest
and the possibility of another life somewhere else than on Earth.
Something we should perhaps know more about soon thanks to Chinese innovation. »

After becoming the world’s first economic power in scientific research and the most prolific global contributors to publications in physical sciences, engineering and math, ahead of the US which was first for decades, China might even take the US’ first place once again in the field of scientific research. Indeed, China’s research capacity building keeps growing, so will it be one day the world’s number one in scientific research?

Since Trump’s election, China and US have entered a trade war. It is already going relatively far, because sometimes American journalists face difficulties to enter the Chinese territory or are harassed in China. That is why after a call for reciprocal treatment, a report, titled Chinese Influence and American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance, says the US State Department should restrict visas and access for Chinese journalists in the US. This report also allows the US government to impose reciprocal penalties on Chinese companies, or even compensate American companies for losses when they stand up to punitive action from China.

China invests in innovation capacity

Since 2016, the government has aimed to make China an “innovative nation” by 2020, an “international leader in innovation” by 2030 and a “world power of scientific and technological innovation” by 2050.

Indeed, in 2016, China’s budget for basic research commits $408 billion (21% of the global total), up 18.5% over the previous year just after the US who spend $496 billion (26% of the global total). As many sources like University World News mention, China seems likely to surpass America soon. It has already started to outpace research from the US in total number of papers published. In 2016, China published more than 426,000 scientific studies indexed by the Elsevier Scopus database (18,6% of the international total) and the United States came in the second place for the first time publishing 409,000 articles.

In addition, the number of scientific students is increasing, while it is decreasing in the US. Concerning the fast climb in the ranking according to the number of active researchers, China is second in the world after the European Union and US is the third. So, this may be the beginning of the end of the American century and the arrival of the Chinese one.

Impressive results

China is taking a lead in encrypting communications with the successful sending of a « quantum » satellite. It will allow Beijing to test a technology for commercial and military use. And it will ensure the security of communications and avoid surveillance and hacker attacks.

« Such means speak volumes about China’s ambitions. It does not hesitate to invest huge sums in this research, « said Hoi Kwong Lo, researcher in quantum cryptography at the University of Toronto (Canada). Quantum research is one of the priorities of the thirteenth five-year plan, a roadmap presented in March that will guide the Chinese economy until the end of 2020.

Otherwise, on the 8th of December 2018, China launched an exploration vehicle called “Chang’e 4” (see the first images here), corresponding to the name of the Moon’s goddess in Chinese mythology. The goal is to study the hidden side of the Moon, mountainous, rugged, dotted with craters and still unexplored, only photographed for the first time in 1959 by the Soviets. It means scientific experiences like studies of low radio frequencies, mineral resources, and growing tomatoes and other plants. In addition, to communicate with this vehicle, they have already launched a satellite in lunar orbit to have a relay between the earth and the module.

Moreover, to be assembled around 2022, its first major space station named “Heavenly palace” will succeed the international space station, whose end of operation is scheduled for 2024 and which associates the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. Once more, it shows the rise of China rivalising with the USA.

What will be the consequences?

The ambition to become the world’s number one in science and technological innovation pushes China to improve their scientific research capacity and invest heavily in innovation potential. Indeed, the financial and human resources of this country are incomparably stronger than anybody else’s. As a result, China’s future global leadership seems inevitable. Is this good or bad for humanity as a whole? Maybe the increase of humanity’s innovation power beyond the Western world is necessarily a good thing. However, one may have doubts about the use of scientific power by a totalitarian state. Perhaps one day we will all be nostalgic for the good old hegemony of the United States we always complained about…

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