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Major National Science and Technology Projects Fill in Strategic Blanks

Source: Science and Technology Daily

The last five years (2011-2015) was a critical period for China to strengthen homegrown innovation and advance into an innovative country.

The Major National Science and Technology Projects is high on the agenda of China’s work in science and technology. The Projects have made a series of prominent achievements and laid a solid foundation for China to defend national security, adjust industrial structure, transform the pattern of economic growth and improve people’s livelihood.

The general assembly center of the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China got off to a busy start this year, because China’s first home-made large passenger aircraft C919 is scheduled to have its maiden flight this year after rolling off the assembly line late last year.

On February 25, the CAP1400 demonstration project passed the pre-construction safety review, meaning the advanced pressurized water reactor designed by China has completed a successful safety test.

Good news keeps coming. Many people said 2016 is an inspiring year for the Major National Science and Technology Projects.

Participants of the Projects, however, are crystal clear that the achievements are a result of profound fundamental researches over the years and relentless efforts by numerous scientists and researchers.

The last five years was a critical period for China to strengthen innovation and advance into an innovative country. The Major Projects, considered the No.1 priority of China’s science and technology work, has drawn the country’s best researchers, strengthening the role of science and technology in driving economic growth and providing essential support for China to adapt to the economic new normal and advance social development.

Cracking “hard nuts” and addressing “bottlenecks”

The National Outline for Medium-and-Long Term Scientific & Technological Development (2006-2020) was released in 2006. The Outline identifies a number of major special projects involving strategically important products, critical common technologies, and major engineering projects in line with national objectives. These major projects are designed to strive for breakthroughs, pooling resources to do big things and enabling the role of the market economy. These projects are expected to enable scientific and technological progress in a number of areas, leapfrogging developments in overall productivity and filling up the country’s strategic blanks.

Xu Jianguo, Director General of the Major Projects Office, told the Science and Technology Daily that the government has high expectations on the Projects as it targets to develop groundbreaking technologies in the strategic areas, cracking “hard nuts” and addressing “bottlenecks”. In the early years after the initiative was launched, there was still a huge gap between China and advanced countries in key technologies and industry competitiveness, but that gap has been substantially narrowed thanks to the significant progress the initiative has made over recent years.

Thanks to the government support to core electronic devices, high-end generic chips and basic software, China is now one of the global leaders in the design and development of supercomputer CPU, and the made-in-China software and hardware products have been massively applied in such areas as aerospace, electric power, office applications and intelligent mobile devices.

The Special Project on IC Manufacturing has lifted China’s status as a global leader in manufacturing high-end integrated circuit, and associated techniques have also been upgraded. 55nm and 40nm integrated circuits have been put into mass production, 28nm devices have entered into production and technique platform for 22nm integrated circuits has been established. Thanks to key technological breakthroughs of the project, China’s IC packaging technology is now among the world’s most advanced. The high-density IC packaging technology has applied in mass production. In addition, China has independently innovated the wafer-level packaging technology.

The Special Project of High-end Numerically Controlled Machine Tools and Basic Manufacturing has substantially enhanced domestic industry’s R&D strength and manufacturing capability. Key technical parameters for multi-channel and multi-axis CNC systems have reached international levels, and some 20 products like the automatic press line for large automotive covering parts can now be manufactured domestically, no longer being imported.

The Project on Oil and Gas Fields has significantly enhanced China’s capabilities of oil and gas exploration and improved domestic manufacturing of the major exploration equipment. Such achievements strengthen national energy security. The successful operation of the HYSY 981 deep-water drilling platform from 3,000 meters to 500 meters independently designed and built by China, made China the world’s third country, after the United States and Norway, to master the core technology to design and develop deep-water semi-submersible drilling platform.

During the 12th Five-year Plan, the Major Projects have made steady progress and basically met their objectives. Many tough and thorny technological challenges have been tackled.

“Accelerator” program for “little giants”

Technological breakthroughs enable industrial upgrading and economic development. The implementation of Major Projects has facilitated a group of Chinese corporations that are already leading players in the international market. The Projects have also built up small and medium-sized enterprises. Several industrial clusters took shape, respectively focusing on integrated circuit manufacturing, bio-medicine R&D, nuclear power equipment manufacturing as well as high technology development. Some industries are moving up to the higher end of the value chain, and some have developed a complete industry chain. The Projects have bolstered participating enterprises’ own innovation, offered strategic support to the development, expansion and transformation of emerging industries and enterprises in line with the government push for widespread entrepreneurship and innovation.

Supported by the Special Project on Broadband Mobile Telecommunication, the fourth-generation TD-LTE mobile telecommunication network has quickly expanded across China, and a complete end-to-end industry chain led by China and joined by worldwide participants has been established. China was falling behind in the 2G mobile telecommunication service, made remarkable breakthroughs in 3G technology, and now it has filled the gap in the 4G era. China Mobile has built the world’s largest 4G network based on the TD-LTE technology, with 65 commercialized networks and more than 1.3 million base stations around the globe, over 270 million 4G subscribers in China. The project has expedited the development of several internationally-known corporations like China Mobile, Huawei and ZTE. It also enables the rapid expansion of emerging chip-design companies such as Spreadtrum Communications and RDA Microelectronics.

Supported by the Project on IC Manufacturing, over 30 IC products and dozens of IC materials have passed production tests and now available in the market. The project not only reinforced market competitiveness of leading IC suppliers like Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, but developed a group of companies as “little giants”; lifted Chinese names like Jiangyin Changdian Advanced Packaging Co., Ltd. and Tianshui Huatian Technology Co., Ltd. into the ranks of world leaders in IC packaging.

Backed by the Project on Nuclear Power, China is now able to make key equipment and materials used in nuclear reactors, like pressure tanks, evaporators, helium blowers, U tubes and nuclear-grade zirconium. The project has reinvigorated domestic nuclear power industry.

The Special Project on New Drugs has become a driving force for biopharmaceutical companies to strengthen product innovation. Before the project was launched, only two Chinese drug companies had more than RMB 10 billion of annual revenues in drug sales, and now 11 drug companies have crossed that threshold, and two drugmakers even report annual drug sales of more than RMB 40 billion. Heng Rui Medicine, Innovent Biologics and Hutchison Whampoa Limited have even inked deals to sell their innovative drugs to foreign drug companies.

“Down to earth” projects for public good

In the opinion of most people, the Major Projects are to overcome tough scientific & technological challenges and promote industrial transformation, but in fact some are closely associated with our everyday life. “We also launched some projects closely linked to people’s life, and they have also produced satisfactory outcomes”, said Xu Jianguo.

The Special Project on Water Contamination Control and Treatment has developed crucial technologies for the petrochemical, steel and paper-making sectors to dispose of waste water. The project made contribution to emissions reduction, clean production, and industrial transformation. The adoption of joint pollution control technology at the Taihu Lake and the Three Gorges Reservoir Region has reduced the nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants by 44,000 metric tons.

Under the joint push of the special project of new genetically modified varieties and other sci-tech initiatives, China has planted a total of 26.7 million hectares of insect-resistant cotton of which 96% were domestic varieties. The planting of insect-resistant cotton has reduced pesticide consumption by 400,000 metric tons and brought economic benefits of RMB 45 billion.

Impressive achievements have also been made by the Special Project on Major Infectious Diseases. The technical system was developed to monitor infectious diseases and offered technological support for health authorities to deal with epidemics of communicable diseases. China has quickly developed diagnostic reagents and vaccines for the H7N9 epidemic and the Ebola outbreak, which would not have been possible without the project.

Continue moving forward

At the 7th meeting of the Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs in 2014, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, stressed that the 16 major special projects of science and technology must be fully implemented with extra emphasis on the key projects so that tangible progress can be realized on a timely basis. Premier Li Keqiang also emphasized the importance of “optimizing the mechanism of implementing major special projects”. Vice Premier Liu Yandong is in charge of overseeing the organization and implementation of the special projects. She has given important instructions, called special meetings and inspected some projects follow the latest developments of the projects.

Every achievement and breakthrough made in the projects is attributed to meticulous management and dedication. The projects are undertaken by thousands of research institutes, universities and enterprises across the country. More than 200,000 people are directly involved in the initiative, 60% are senior researchers and more than 4,000 are overseas. This demonstrates that China is able to efficiently pool innovation resources and enlist capable personnel.

According to Xu Jianguo, for the next step they would work together with the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Finance to implement the adjustment in the priorities of the Major Projects. They would keep abreast of the technological roadmap and direction, further focus on their key missions, specify the key tasks in the next five years and make sure the primary objectives set would be fulfilled by 2020. (By Li Yan)