SCIO press conference on implementing the innovation-driven development strategy to build China into a leading country in science and technology

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Science and Technology Daily:

My questions are regarding basic research. Much attention has been paid to increasing original innovation capacity, and China has made many plans related to basic research. Mr. Wang mentioned just now that efforts in free exploration and task-oriented projects should be made to boost basic research. What progress in basic research has been achieved so far? Also, how can China further improve its capacity for original innovation? Thank you.

Wang Zhigang:

Thank you for your questions, which are good ones and of great importance. As I said at the beginning, China has always attached great importance to basic research. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee has attached even greater importance to it. General Secretary Xi Jinping said basic research is the wellspring of the entire science system and is key to all technological questions. We have always valued basic research, with breakthroughs made in many areas, especially over the decade since the 18th CPC National Congress. A feature of scientific research is that as we proceed, we find that we are not as knowledgeable as we initially thought. This is the consensus of scientists and illustrates the awe of science. At this stage, our country should attach more importance to basic research, and the participating entities and investment in this area should become more important. 

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council have highly prioritized basic research. General Secretary Xi Jinping has made a series of important instructions on it. The Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee held a group study session on strengthening basic research on Feb. 21. The general secretary made an important speech at the event, stressing that strengthening basic research is imperative for higher-level self-reliance and greater strength in science and technology, and is the only path to building China into a world leader in science and technology . He also called for strengthening overall planning and coordination and increasing policy support to promote the high-quality development of basic research.

The MOST has fully implemented the important instructions of the General Secretary and the decisions and arrangements of the CPC Central Committee. We have formulated a 10-year plan for basic research. Efforts have been made to increase government investment and guide the entire society, including enterprises, local governments, and private actors, as well as donations, to increase investment in basic research and diversify investment channels. Over the years, funding for basic research has grown from 49.9 billion yuan in 2012 to 195.1 billion yuan in 2022, with an average annual growth rate of nearly 15%, nearly twice the growth rate of China's spending on research and development (R&D). In other words, all sectors saw increased investment while the growth rate of basic research has been faster.

China has made significant breakthroughs in basic research, completing a number of national major projects, such as FAST, the steady high magnetic field, and the spallation neutron source. Key projects have also been planned in fields such as quantum information, stem cells, brain science, and synthetic biology. We have progressed in quantum computing, quantum communication, and quantum measurement . We have also made key original achievements with global influence, such as the quantum computer prototype, an artificial method of synthesizing starch from carbon dioxide, and nano-confined catalysis. Carbon dioxide influences the atmosphere, which is a problem. However, if it is combined with other substances and transformed into starch using fine craftsmanship and advanced technologies, it can be applied in various industrial sectors. In doing so, waste materials will be turned into treasures through recycling. These are just a few examples of what technological advancements could bring to us. There are also many other examples concerning national development and security, healthy and sustainable industrial development, and people's lives and health. In particular, major innovation bases, major projects, and high-level teams have played a crucial role together in rapidly strengthening our capacity for original innovation.

We still face some difficulties and shortcomings as we work on basic research. The first challenge in basic research is to pose genuine questions. This is a very challenging task, as it is often said that the key lies in the question rather than the answer. If a question is asked correctly, it can lead research in the right direction. However, if the question is not asked correctly or accurately, your efforts will be much less effective. In other words, results can be achieved more easily if the question is asked correctly. We can ask fundamental questions based on major economic and social development challenges, which means getting to the source of the problem. We can also ask questions based on personal curiosity, which is free exploration. To solve major development problems in the country, both aspects should be given much attention, and we must raise scientific questions based on major challenges, weaknesses and difficulties.

Our country is currently facing technological bottlenecks and weaknesses in some sectors. Getting to the source of the problems and understanding the basic principles and methods of addressing problems requires us to focus on basic research. Developing basic research requires leveraging the roles of excellent teams and talented professionals. Genuine basic research starts with posing questions, proposing fine research methods and paradigms, and ultimately solving problems and answering difficult scientific questions. Meanwhile, it describes laws and methods. To achieve this, we need high-caliber scientists and teams in basic research, who have patriotic sentiments, and possess a sense of honor and pride as well. They should be able to answer and discover scientific problems, describe scientific laws, and have their own scientific opinions and unique insights. Their sense of honor and pride should be reflected in this aspect and be remembered for years, decades, and even centuries to come. We remember figures like Newton, Einstein, Planck and Pasteur because they made discoveries and summarized new laws, which is exactly what basic research demands.

Next, we will follow the important instructions on scientific and technological innovation and basic research given by the General Secretary. We will implement the guiding principles of his speech at the group study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee. We will focus on major original innovations and build platforms for developing goal-oriented basic research, market-oriented applied basic research, as well as basic research based on free exploration. In doing so, we will allow everyone to have a stage to showcase their abilities and unleash their imagination and intelligence. First, we will strengthen frontier-oriented exploratory basic research. Looking forward and taking the next step is always a challenging task. Second, we need to promote strategy-oriented systematic basic research. The CPC Central Committee has proposed some major strategic goals, and it is necessary to support these goals with science and technology. The 20th CPC National Congress has made a series of plans for building a great modern socialist country, such as building up China's strength in education, aerospace, and transportation. It is necessary to provide talent and technological support to achieve these goals. We must strengthen the systematic layout of strategy-oriented basic research, just like "linking pearls into a necklace." Third, we will advance market-oriented applied basic research. We need to identify problems found in the application, get to the source of the problem, and work to find answers and methods.

At the same time, we need to optimize the structure of fundamental disciplines and support the penetration and diffusion of science and technology into various sectors. We also need to recognize that the real hope of science and technology lies in the younger generation of scientists. Therefore, we should provide more opportunities and a broader stage for young scientists to unleash their intelligence, shoulder primary responsibilities, and make significant contributions, thereby gaining recognition from the scientific community.

Finally, I want to say that basic research is a process that requires people to devote themselves wholeheartedly to research, which often means boldly exploring an entirely new field where no one has ventured before. It can be difficult to see which direction to take while pursuing development in basic research. Proceeding requires a strong foundation of scientific knowledge, excellent scientific thinking, and analytical skills. Some explorations may fail. Due to the low probability of success in scientific research, especially in scientific discoveries, scientists must be prepared for failure and persist in the face of setbacks. From the perspective of attitude and methods, the path of science is always rocky, and success is not guaranteed. An ancient saying states, "it's better to be diligent than too clever." It means that people need to be hardworking and challenge themselves constantly. Only then can they achieve significant results after persistent long-term efforts. I want to invite friends from the media to pay more attention to basic research, as well as science and technology. We should guide the public to value science and technology from a young age, encourage them to learn and make the best use of science and technology, and eventually become someone who understands and even takes pride in their involvement in science and technology. Thank you.

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