China-EU Science & Technology Year

Since 1998, the People’s Republic of China has been very much present in projects funded by the European Union’s framework research programmes. This country, which in recent years has systematically increased its research budget by more than ten percent per annum, has become the major third country involved in Community programmes.

Jun Han Jun Han
Shiping Ren Shiping Ren
Double Star mission in orbit. Artist’s impression. Example of Europe/China collaboration in the field of Space. Double Star mission in orbit. Artist’s impression. Example of Europe/China collaboration in the field of Space.
The ITER fusion reactor is being built at Cadarache (FR). Six Chinese researchers are currently participating in this project, the aim of which is to provide sustainable energy generation. The ITER fusion reactor is being built at Cadarache (FR). Six Chinese researchers are currently participating in this project, the aim of which is to provide sustainable energy generation.

In order to make the most of research opportunities offered by the Seventh Framework Programme, the authorities are redoubling their efforts in keeping Chinese researchers informed. They are doing so to such an extent that since October, this current year has been decreed the “China-EU Science & Technology Year”. A studious year that has nothing to do with the Year of the Pig, in the traditional calendar! An interview with Jun Han and Shiping Ren, from the Chinese Mission to the European Union in Brussels.

How is scientific and technological research funded in China?

Jun Han, Minister Counsellor with the China Mission to the EU: In China, scientific and technological development (S&T) is covered by several major national programmes.

On the one hand, we have major strategic guidelines. For S&T, for example, this is National Programme 863, announced by the Government in March 1986. For fundamental scientific research, we have National Programme 973, announced in 1997. Among these major national programmes, we should also mention the Spark Programme (1986) for research in the agricultural sector which is also based on S&T research, or the Torch Programme, launched in1988, for the development of hi-tech industries within the country. In total, ten or so major national programmes of this kind form the framework for the financing of research in China.

On the other hand, shorter-term priorities are covered by five-year programmes.

Financing for these different programmes comes from the State and its scientific institutions, who also sign research contracts with industry.

What kind of budget does China set aside each year, for financing scientific and technological research?

Jun Han: At present, it is around 1.3% of the gross domestic product. Last year, that represented the equivalent of some €30 billion. The aim of the Chinese government is, between now and 2020, to obtain financing for research of at least 2.5% of GDP.

Evolution of funds set aside for S&T research in China

Year Percentage of GDP
1999 0,76%
2000 0,90%
2001 0,95%
2002 1,07%
2003 1,13%
2004 1,23%

(Source: Ministry of Science and Technology/People’s Republic of China)

How are Chinese researchers and industrialists informed of research opportunities financed by the European Commission?

Shiping Ren, Second Secretary with the China Mission to the EU: The initiative regarding a partnership with European researchers systematically comes from Chinese scientists. The Government merely creates favourable conditions so that such initiatives can be taken up by researchers, for example, by helping them attend scientific conferences, colloquiums or symposiums in China or elsewhere in the world. Moreover, in Beijing, the Ministry of Science and Technology, in collaboration with the Delegation from the European Union, organises information events about research opportunities with the Union. Since summer 2006, we have also been organising informative courses in Beijing and the provinces regarding the Seventh Framework Programme and its potential for Chinese researchers. At certain seminars, the number of participants has been 300 to 400 people.

During the Sixth Framework Programme, we organised some 30 or so information days of this kind in China.

In your opinion, how will the collaboration between Chinese and European researchers evolve within the new framework programme?

Shiping Ren: Collaboration agreements relating to research between China and the European Union date back to 1998. That year, we were at the start of the Fourth Framework Programme. At the time, Chinese researchers managed to participate in just two or three projects in the framework programme. As the years have gone by, other teams have joined in. According to our calculations, in the Sixth Framework Programme, which is just ending, about 200 Chinese scientific teams have been able to collaborate with European researchers (within the framework of 134 projects, according to the European nomenclature). A portion of these (50 teams out of 200), were concentrated in the field of information and communications technology (ICT).

I believe that, with the Seventh Framework Programme, this collaboration is going to intensify, to the mutual benefit of all partners. Especially as a result of the fact that the new programme will cover a longer period than its predecessors.

What are the main areas of research for your country in the coming years?

Shiping Ren: We have practically the same priorities as the Europeans. That explains why partnerships with Chinese researchers are beneficial for all parties (‘win-win’ situations). We would focus on research programmes aimed at energy, environmental protection, biotechnology, health, new materials, IT, foodprocessing, transport and even space.

With regard to energy, China is collaborating on the ITER nuclear fusion reactor. Is this a priority?

Jun Han: China is indeed collaborating with the European Union within the framework of the ITER project. A large country like China needs enormous amounts of energy for the development of the country. If saving energy is one priority, developing new forms of energy is another, and ITER offers immense potential for addressing the energy needs of the whole world. That is why this type of major international project, which benefits the whole of humanity, is of interest to us. Nevertheless, in the area of energy, an area for which there is a China/EU steering committee and close bilateral cooperation, we do not limit ourselves to just this project. At the last meeting of the energy steering committee in Shanghai, last year, there were also a lot of discussions regarding clean coal, nuclear fission, hydrogen, etc.

With regard to Space, China gives the impression that it would like to develop its own activities in this field. For example, activities regarding manned flights. The historical flight of the first Chinaman in Space, Yang Liwei, is a testament to this.

Jun Han: I cannot prevent people from seeing things from this angle. But I must however remind you that we are working, for example, in close collaboration with ESA, the European Space Agency, within the framework of the Double Star sun observation mission. Moreover, China is the main third country participating in the European Galileo satellite positioning programme. My country has set aside €70 million for the first phase and eleven collaboration projects have already been signed within this context. Two more are waiting in the wings. For Galileo, the first phase has, in our view, already been finalised. We are currently in the process of working on new methods of cooperation for continuing with this programme and hope to have the best possible options for the implementation of industrial collaboration. Galileo is a perfect example of the S&T collaboration that the European Union and China can put in place. It is also, for us, the longest project ever envisaged. With Galileo, we will be partners for a very long period: twenty to thirty years, at least.

In terms of health, are the links between China and the European Union as strong as they are with regard to technology?

Shiping Ren: One example out of many, by way of reply. When we were faced with the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic, we asked our European partners to lend a hand. Straightaway, in the Sixth Framework Programme, some ten or so research projects specifically aimed at SARS were implemented and €9 million was set aside for this. Nine of these projects were successful, which is a good success rate. With regard to the Seventh Framework Programme, we are going to be collaborating, specifically, on projects relating to traditional Chinese medicine. This should not take the place of modern scientific medicine, but we believe it may, in certain cases, provide interesting alternatives. Here, too, it will be a case of ‘win-win’ partnerships... for each type of medicine!


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An impressive ‘national’ list of scientific achievements in 2006

Shanghai, 6 340 km², 18 670 000 inhabitants in 2006, satellite view. Shanghai, 6 340 km², 18 670 000 inhabitants in 2006, satellite view.

On 21 January this year, the 10 main scientific and technological advances realised in China in 2006 were published by the authorities in Beijing. This ‘Top 10’ was drawn up by a panel of 565 members of the Chinese Academy of Science and the Chinese Academy of Engineering Science. The list is as impressive as it is multidisciplinary.

  • The commissioning of a new generation internet network (Ipv6).
  • The discovery of the largest deposits of natural gas in the country (Puguang, province of Szechuan).
  • The development of the first experimental advanced superconductivity tokamak (EAST).
  • Producing resonance in a chemical reaction at quantum level.
  • The realisation of a ‘green corridor’ 436 kilometres long in the Takelamagan Desert. This is the longest green corridor in the world in a shifting desert area. A model of the type for controlling sand using biological methods.
  • A complete oceanographic expedition (297 days at sea), by the vessel Ocean 1.
  • Progress in the development of therapeutic hepatitis B vaccines.
  • Obtaining key results in experiments carried out using the electron/positron collider in Beijing.
  • Dual particle teleportation (one particle with negative drag, the other with positive drag)
  • The launch of a teledetection satellite.