Top CCP Scientist Diagnoses China's STEM Ills
"We lack strategic scientists and top technicians, training for young talent, and a reserve of outstanding engineers."
It’s been a minute since we’ve translated some partyspeak here at ChinaTalk. But this past week, a speech by Zhang Yuzhuo 张玉卓, an energy scientist and Party Branch Secretary of the China Association of Science and Technology (CAST), caught my eye.
CAST is China’s umbrella professional association for scientists charged with “publicizing the line, principles and policies of the CCP, reflecting the suggestions, opinions and demands of scientific and technological workers.” In other words, it facilitates politics among China’s STEM community and leads Party initiatives in science & tech. It has the additional mandate of popularizing scientific literacy.
CAST is also in charge of nearly 200 journals, including the adorably titled Tea Science whose recent edition published an article on ‘Effects of Light Waves on the Aroma Substances of Fresh Tea Leaves in Summer and Autumn During Spreading and the Quality of Final Green Tea’.
CAST’s current Chairman is Wan Gang, who from 2007-2018 ran the Ministry of Science and Technology, an organization most famous for spearheading the 863 Program and China’s most ambitious science megaprojects. Zhang Yuzhuo, who delivered the speech below, is CAST’s seniormost Party official.
The speech emphasizes a few key points:
American ‘containment’ is impacting Chinese STEM on multiple axes. The five Zhang identifies are through promoting US science, “precise containment” via targeted moves like export controls, competing for talent, ‘containment via coalition,’ and the juiciest one, ‘moral containment’ tying Chinese S&T to “high tech authoritarianism.”
China still can’t deliver major scientific and technological breakthroughs, partly due to outdated systems that need reform;
China’s scientific community is enthusiastic about people-to-people exchange and will seek to foster major journals, international organizations, and key industry brands from its own backyard (all things in CAST’s wheelhouse…this speech should be read partially as CAST ‘talking their book.’)
Below are translated excerpts taken from his September 1st, 2022 piece on CAST’s website, titled “Joyfully Welcome the 20th Party Congress, Strive for New Journeys: Unifying Hearts and Consolidating Efforts to Promote High-Level Self-Reliance and Self-Improvement in Science and Technology”.
Bold emphases, hyperlinks, subheaders, and images were added by the translator.
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How America is Containing China
High-level scientific and technological self-sufficiency is a necessity prompted by fierce and complex international competition. In recent years, especially since the outbreak of the pandemic, counter-globalization has evidently accelerated in some Western countries. Technical barriers are growing worldwide, and channels for both scientific and technological innovation and talent exchange are narrowing. The U.S. has deliberately promoted containment of Chinese science and technology.
Their first method is strategic containment. The Biden administration has placed greater emphasis on implementing a systematic strategy to suppress China, as well as strengthening its innovation strategy to enhance American competitiveness. The report "The Year Ahead: Twenty-Four Ways Congress and the Biden Administration Can Advance Good Tech Policy in 2021" argues that Congress should increase federal funding for R&D in critical technologies and advanced industries, as proposed in the new bipartisan Endless Frontiers Act.
Their second method is precise containment. The U.S.’s science and technology embargo against China is evolving from a crude strategy to a refined, dexterous and pragmatic approach. Biden's State of the Union address emphasized that when it comes to China, the U.S. should compete when it needs to compete, cooperate when it can cooperate, and confront when it must confront. The Congressional "China Task Force" expert panel on U.S.-China science and technology relations proposed that the Biden administration strengthen both "defense" and "offense" against China and implement highly precise strikes.
The third method is talent containment. The Biden administration has pursued an open immigration policy. The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) report "Taking the Helm: A National Technology Strategy to Meet the China Challenge" states that "[attracting] and retaining talent is a true zero-sum element of the overall competition”, and recommends that the United States attract and retain the best and brightest of science and technology talent in the world.
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The fourth method is containment via coalition. The U.S. is using the "science democracy vs. science dictatorship" framework to bring in allies and exert pressure on China, joining with the European Union to escalate a combined front of technological containment against China. Moreover, it is seducing countries within the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework through economic incentives to reduce their dependence on Chinese economy, trade and investment.
The fifth method is moral containment. The U.S. has politicized the issue of science and technology, linking it to broader ideological issues such as democracy and human rights. It has used labels like "high-tech authoritarianism," "precise social control," and "virus maker" to defame Chinese science and technology, while turning up tensions in intellectual property and technology theft. By amplifying issues like research integrity, scientific ethics and academic norms, the U.S. treats Chinese scientists and technicians as an inherent problem and target of distrust. We need to grasp new developments in the science-and-technology competition against the United States, be more proactive in strategy, more flexible in planning, and more precise in tactics, so as to properly deal with the complex situation of the science and technology game between China and the United States.
Where Chinese S&T is Falling Short Today
At the same time, we also need to be highly aware of our shortcomings in science and technology. Many problems remain in China’s development of science and technology. In terms of original innovation capacities, we lack major theoretical breakthroughs and leading original achievements. Bottlenecks are common in core technologies. In terms of overall efficiency of the innovation system, the functional positioning of each innovation unit is not clear enough and coordination between central and local initiatives is insufficient, which leads to imbalanced development of regional innovation capacities. Corporations have not solidified their leadership positions in the innovation ecosystem. In terms of integration of scientific and technological innovation resources, universities, enterprises, and research institutes need to improve their synergy and insufficient resource-sharing. In terms of reasonable layouts for scientific and technological innovation forces, national strategic forces are not planned with function in mind.
In terms of input and output, there is a disconnect between industry, academia and research. Enterprises don’t feel confident translating results into production, and scattered, repetitive and inefficient investments remain common. In terms of structuring scientific and technological talent, there is an imbalance of strategic and technological talents. We lack strategic scientists and top technicians, training for young talent, and a reserve of outstanding engineers. In terms of evaluation for science and technology, there is no synchronization between "Break the Five Onlys" [ed.: Dissertations Only, “Hats”/Credentials Only, Titles Only, Degrees Only, and Awards Only] and "Establish a New Standard", and the evaluation system is not sound.
In terms of the overall ecosystem, credentialism and exclusivity persist and we have a long way to go to reduce burdens for workers in science and technology. These shortcomings have not only become "stumbling blocks" on the path to seizing strategic opportunities and taking advantage of the moment, but also became real roadblocks to pursuing a high level of scientific and technological self-reliance and self-improvement. The scientific and technological community must face the problem head-on with an unprecedented sense of urgency and an immediate sense of responsibility, in order to revolutionize the old, face challenges head-on, and pursue the new.
Zhang Yuzhuo speaking earlier this year.
Cyberspace + Strategic Thinking
In terms of Internet strategic thinking, General Secretary Xi Jinping repeatedly stressed that “without passing the Internet hurdle, we can not pass the hurdle of long-term governance." With methods informed by information technology, we can better perceive societal trends and environments, open communication channels, assist decision-making governance, create convenience for the people, and keep a finger on the pulse of society. Cyberspace has become a new space for science and technology workers to communicate and interact, and should also become a new space for the Party to coalesce the consensus of the scientific and technological community. It should become a new space for CAST to unite and lead scientific and technological talent. Science and technology work should use Internet technology and information systems nimbly and take the mass line online.
Engels once said that the spirit of thought is the most beautiful flower on earth. In his old-edition preface to Anti-Dühring, he pointed out that a nation cannot stand at the peak of science for a moment without theoretical thinking. Qian Xuesen proposed the construction of a science of thought in the ‘80s, in order to bridge the gap between fundamental scientific thinking and Marxist epistemology. We must comprehend methods of thinking [as delineated by General Secretary Xi Jinping] deeply, combine them closely with scientific practice, refining thinking skills, improve the quality of thinking, so that our thinking is more visionary and less short-sighted; more comprehensive and less one-sided; more systematic and less fragmented; more profound and less superficial; and more dynamic and less mechanical. These are all so that we can make up for shortcomings in our ability and overcome fear, in order to improve our overall ability to manage complex contradictions, understand and adapt to change, and explore new fields.
Image: Qian Xuesen with Mao Zedong. (SpaceTech Asia)
Promoting the ‘Scientist Spirit’ by Making STEM Red
To clarify the Association’s work and enhance its executive abilities, this year CAST has put forward a sixteen-word strategy of “focusing on the target, striving for first-class, empowering from the grassroots, and opening up synergy.” This specifically reflects novel developments from this year and efforts to sync the "Three Natures” [ed.: focusing on the Political Nature, Progressive Nature, and Mass/People Nature of governance] with the "Four Services" [ed.: In service of scientific workers, in service of innovation and development, in service of popular scientific literacy, and in service of scientific decision-making for the Party and government], as well as the focal point most aligned with the central line and the overall situation. The four aspects [of the sixteen-word strategy] are an organically unified entity and cannot be separated. We must focus on the target in order to unify the hearts of people, join the mainstream in order to strive for first-class, delve into the grassroots in order to strengthen foundations, and strengthen synergy in order to seek commonality.
The first aspect is focusing on the target. We must strengthen political guidance and develop vibrant, vivid, authentic, and relatable paths to political leadership that reflect the characteristics of the scientific community. Why is the Scientist Spirit important? General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed that "[the Scientist Spirit] is the spiritual leadership and ideological guarantee of good talent work." The Scientist Spirit feeds the souls of science and technology workers; it anchors scientific and technological talent spiritually when they serve “our greatest concern — the country”; it energizes workers spiritually in order to achieve a high level of scientific and technological self-sufficiency and self-improvement; it is the vantage point from which Chinese science and technology stand among a global community of scholars. To vigorously promote the Scientist Spirit is to encourage the release of the enormous creativity and innovative vitality among scientific and technological talent, which provides spiritual impetus for high-level scientific and technological self-sufficiency.
We should build up CAST’s Party school system and fortify a courageous foundation for immersive education and unified leadership. People’s hearts are the biggest political battle, and it is the duty of the CAST Party school to connect and serve talent in order to work among people’s hearts. Armed with “Party-building red”, it should lead “science-and-technology blue” and communicate politics well by using language familiar to scientific and technological workers: unify hearts, by focusing on scientific and technological workers’ entrepreneurship and urgent desire to serve; warm hearts, by promoting scientific and technological workers’ values, rooted spirits, and pursuit of serving the nation and people; inspire hearts, by creating a uniquely CAST political school and home for talent as a vantage point for values and a melting pot of thought.
CAST’s Central Aims
In order to focus on the target, we must capably filter CAST’s three main duties from a political perspective. The first is to serve the nation by popularizing science. Scientific literacy is our most extensive service to society and the most equitable public good; it is the most universal benefit we provide to people's well-being. To achieve common prosperity, we should pursue prosperity in knowledge and spirits. This means deeper and more universal scientific literacy offerings that create longer-lasting impacts on people's sense of ownership, happiness and security. Promoting scientific literacy is an important way to practice the original intention and purpose of the Party and seek happiness for the people.
The second is to strengthen national power with academic knowledge. Academic work should build platforms for scientific and technological talent to open channels: adhering to the "Four Orientations" [ed.: orient towards the front lines of global science and technology, orient towards the economy as the main battlefield, orient towards the country’s major needs, orient towards the people’s lives and health], we should be active in academic exchanges, construct first-class academic associations and first-class journals, construct international scientific and technological organizations, participate in global science and technology governance, promote deep integration of science and technology with the economy, grasp innovation, acceleration transformation, and prioritize ecological protection. These are strategic essentials for innovation-driven, high-quality development. The third is to advise on knowledge for the country. To focus on "our greatest concern — the country”, shoulder heavy responsibilities, gather wisdom and efforts, and serve decision-making for the Party and government is to lessen the worries of the party, strategize for the country, and solve problems for the people.
The second aspect is striving for first-class and fortifying our brand. We must persist in adhering to high positions, standards, and qualities in order to make our major industries strong and excellent, as well as building platforms, expanding channels, and constructing mechanisms for science and technology workers in order to enhance service systematization at CAST. We must pursue excellence in Chinese scientific literacy, develop strength in Chinese science and technology innovation, and excel in Chinese fostering of scientific talent in order to further plumb depths, increase effectiveness, and build ecosystems. We must accelerate the building of first-class journals and first-class academic associations, in order to construct high-level academic exchange platforms. Focusing on improving the overall effectiveness of the national innovation system, we should guide national academic associations towards strategic key areas, set up branches, and push strong, standardized branches towards launching new societies. Existing national academic association committees that do a good job can become the basis for future first-class academic associations or international science and technology organizations. We should help accelerate the pace of internal governance reform among national academic associations: with more than 200 national associations, it takes a single problematic one to affect their overall image. This is why we should speed up reform and promote the construction of association systems, academic systems, and discourse systems that embody Chinese characteristics, styles, and atmospheres.
The third aspect is empowering the grassroots to strengthen the foundation. Forward-thinking reforms should strengthen the grassroots. We should empower the construction of grassroots-level CAST organizations, especially CAST organizations within corporations, in order to add vibrancy to reforms, energize innovation, and give shape, feeling, actions, and impacts to CAST work. Instead of decorating achievements, we should lift people out of central struggles and help the grassroots feel a sense of ownership. We should accurately comprehend the reform methodology of “grasp key points, fix shortcomings, and strengthen weaknesses” and the grand reform logic of “synchronously tear down and build up”; build systems, strengthen functions, and improve real impacts ahead of the curve; strengthen a CAST work system that connects widely and serves talent; and expand organizational and work-based coverage.
Specifically, we should emphasize “smart” empowerment. We are building a Smart CAST 2.0 to rapidly follow in the steps of a digital China era. We are now building “new grassroots infrastructure” for CAST and accelerating its digital transformation, in order to push CAST work towards a data-supported, process-driven, intelligent-service, and ecologically-optimized direction. Among these, the informatization of talent is a key point for breakthrough. We should start from the view of building a national-level science and technology talent bank and construct its basis as informed by progressive philosophies, models, and experiences.
We are to pursue the construction of an authoritative, dynamic, and high-volume science and technology talent bank within 3 years, in order to achieve one centralized talent bank at the 10-million level and significantly improve our communications-based services. This will improve the system’s ability to support critical reforms in our talent development mechanisms, which powerfully supports the Party and government’s wider talent-work blueprint.
The fourth aspect is opening up synergy and building ecosystems. Opening up synergy includes both national synergy and opening up to scientists abroad. Internally, we should strengthen strategic synergy and promote synergy between scientific reserves and talent resources, deepen integration among industry, academia, and research, and improve the overall effectiveness of national innovation systems. Within national innovation systems, CAST can play a unique role: it can both address shortcomings that go unnoticed and strengthen grassroots and resource chains. We are strengthening our strategic collaborations: CAST has already signed more than 30 strategic collaboration agreements with national commissions like the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission and relevant provincial governments. We should increase awareness of the bigger picture, deepen practical collaboration, construct organizations, build channels, encourage resource-sharing, collate strengths, mutually inspire, mutually nourish, foster opportunities through collaboration, and open new fields through synergy, in order to serve “our greatest concern — the country”.
We must enthusiastically encourage people-to-people scientific and technological exchange. We must deepen our collaboration with United Nations organizations, deeply involve ourselves with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and strengthen international scientific associations. We must widely promote shared values across humanity and collaboratively encourage open scientific development; continue to build up brands like the World New Energy Vehicle Conference, World Science and Technology Development Forum, World Conference on Science Literacy, World Young Scientist Summit, World Intelligence Congress, Zhongguancun Forum, and China Education Association for International Exchange. We should gather trust and consensus, promote open cooperation, and build a bridge of science and technology for the community of common destiny for mankind.
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