Significant progress achieved in science and technology

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A visitor takes photos of a robot during the Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2021 on February 23. [Photo/Xinhua]

Soon, you will be able to check out lunar soil in Beijing. The National Museum of China announced that it would exhibit the lunar samples brought back in December 2020 by the Chang'e-5 lunar probe. Preserved in a delicate container made of artificial crystal, the samples have already arrived at the museum. These are not just China's first samples from Moon but also the world's freshest lunar samples in over four decades.

Pei Zhaoyu, Deputy Director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of China National Space Aviation, said the mission laid a foundation for future manned lunar and deep space exploration. Of all the samples brought back, some will be exhibited and some used for research.

In January, the lunar mission was listed as one of the top 10 news stories of scientific and technological progress in China in 2020, selected by members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

The list also included the successful launch of the last satellite of the homegrown BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, breakthroughs made by both unmanned and manned submersibles in deep diving, and the completion of China's new-generation "artificial sun."

The annual compilation of the list is in its 27th year, a witness to China's science and technology progress.

Driving innovation

The scientific and technology achievements added an encouraging note to an epidemic-ravaged year, which also saw the fruition of China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

The plan regarded innovation as the basis from which to pursue development and pledged to give a central role to innovation in science and technology. It encouraged the general public to start innovative businesses.

The policies encouraging innovation yielded result. "During the period, China saw improvement in both the quality and quantity of technological innovation," Wang Zhigang, Minister of Science and Technology, said at a press conference in October 2020. He added that in the five years, breakthroughs were made in many fields such as supercomputing, rail transit, quantum information and additive manufacturing.

For instance, 45 percent of the world's top 500 supercomputers are from China. In terms of advanced rail transit, a prototype magnetic levitation train with a designed top speed of 600 km per hour has completed performance checks on a test track. Maglev trains run fast and generate less noise due to the absence of wheel-rail friction. In addition, a prototype of a high-speed train with a speed of over 400 km per hour rolled off the assembly line last October.

To boost green transport, a relatively complete industrial chain of new-energy vehicles (NEVs) has been established, enabling China to lead the world for five consecutive years in manufacturing and sales of NEVs. The number of NEVs plying in Chinese cities has crossed 4 million, accounting for over 50 percent of the world's total.

Wang said during the 13th Five-Year Plan period, the government launched policies and increased investment to strengthen basic research and foster top-level designs. A number of major science and technology infrastructure were built, including the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, the largest radio telescope.

Science and technology is also being increasingly harnessed to boost the economy. To facilitate the commercial development of inventions by research and academic institutions, the Law on Promoting the Application of Scientific and Technological Advances was amended in 2015. Policies and regulations were introduced to ensure researchers and scientists better enjoy the right to use, transfer and profit from the scientific and technological achievements they make.

Efforts have been made to nurture talents. "Talents are primary resources," Xu Jing, Director General of the Department of Strategic Planning at the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), said. During the 13th Five-Year Plan period, full-time research and development (R&D) personnel increased by 1 million. The talent structure has been optimized and young professionals have got due attention with projects available exclusively for scientists under 35.

Many outstanding Chinese scientists have won international awards. Cryosphere expert Yao Tandong received the 2017 Vega Medal, an award given by the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography every three years, for his contributions to research on glaciers and the environment on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, also known as the Third Pole.

Sten Hagberg, then president of the society, told Xinhua News Agency that Yao's research on the plateau, monsoon and glaciers were crucial to the understanding of the process of climate change.

Enterprises have also been a critical player in China's technological innovation. The number of hi-tech companies in 2019 nearly doubled from 2015. In the past five years, technology and finance have developed rapidly, and the multi-level capital market has provided powerful external resources for the application of scientific and technological innovation achievements.

As of October 2020, over 180 Chinese science and technology enterprises were listed on the new Nasdaq-style Science and Technology Innovation Board in Shanghai, most of them hi-tech enterprises.

"The capital market and science and technology enterprises have supported each other, creating a virtuous circle," Xu said.

Fostering a scientific community

Facing the COVID-19 epidemic, China's top scientists and researchers conducted research in five major fields—etiology, detection technology and products, clinical treatment and drugs, vaccine R&D, and animal models. Within 14 days of the release of the coronavirus genome sequence, they had completed R&D of nucleic acid detection reagents, which were then put into use to test for infections.

As for vaccines, according to the National Medical Products Administration, by mid-February, 16 domestically developed inactivated COVID-19 vaccines had been approved for clinical trial, with six of them in phase three, the final stage before they are assessed by the regulator.

Other fundamental research includes developing a variety of COVID-19 animal models, which provided key technical support for identifying the pathogenesis and transmission pattern and the progress of drug and vaccine development from laboratory tests to human clinical trials.

"Science is a universal language… Therefore international cooperation is necessary for the development of science and technology. We need to build a scientific community," Wang said. "Scientific research cannot be conducted behind closed doors."

During the 13th Five-Year Plan period, bilateral and multilateral inter-governmental exchanges and cooperation in scientific and technological fields were strengthened.

By last October, China had established cooperation relations with 161 countries and regions, and signed several inter-governmental scientific and technological cooperation agreements. It also participated in more than 200 international organizations as well as multilateral mechanisms.

Under the Belt and Road Initiative launched in 2013, MOST has supported young scientists from around the world to work in China, trained hundreds of thousands of personnel, and built laboratories with other countries participating in the initiative.

China also collaborated to build science parks with eight countries, established five national tech transfer platforms and launched a Sino-African sci-tech innovation cooperation center by last October. A South-South cooperation center for technology transfers has been established under the UN's South-South cooperation mechanism, and a Belt and Road tech transfer network has been established.

Amid the pandemic prevention and control work, China established scientific data-sharing platforms that are open to all. By last October, the platforms had provided services for users in more than 170 countries and regions.

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